Farmers, some residents are pitted against big firms


POSTED: Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WAILUKU, MAUI » On a hot day, Thomas Cavey, a Happy Valley resident, used to swim in Iao Stream near his home.

“;There used to be more than a foot or two of water. Now it's only a trickle,”; Cavey said as he watched younger family members frolic in a narrow band of water where the stream once was.

“;The whole neighborhood misses the water,”; he said. “;It used to be deep enough that you could jump in it. Now we don't have water unless it rains really hard.”;

In nearby Waikapu the Pellegrino ohana struggles to restore taro patches on kuleana lands that their family began farming in the 1700s. Although the remnants of 12 patches remain, due to water shortages only three are viable.

“;We want to restore it as it was in the 1800s, but we've been held hostage by the Wailuku Water Co., which takes the stream,”; said Hokuao Pellegrino.

It's stories like these that are at the root of the arguments being made by Hui o na Wai Eha, Maui Tomorrow Foundation, Earth Justice and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to restore water to West Maui streams. Similarly, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. and Maui Tomorrow have used them to support the restoration of 19 East Maui streams.

Maui's water is a public trust, and wasteful water diversions must be stopped, said John Duey, an Iao Valley taro farmer. Duey and other like-minded Maui residents want to see the state Water Commission restore the Waihee, North & South Waiehu, Iao and Waikapu streams, traditionally known as “;Na Wai Eha”; or “;The Four Great Waters.”;

The state Constitution and Water Code, Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 174C, mandates that government agencies protect water for the public trust, said Isaac Moriwake, an attorney for Earth Justice, which has represented Hui o na Wai Eha and Maui Tomorrow in its five-year quest.

The commission has a duty to protect Maui's streams and restore ecological uses, traditional and customary Hawaiian practices, recreation and scenic values, Moriwake said. Flowing water in Na Wai Eha streams would recharge the ground water that supplies more than half of the county's residents and visitors, he said. Also, native animals, estuaries, and near-shore fisheries need fresh water so they can support local fishing and other Hawaiian gathering practices, Moriwake said.

The government needs to break the century-old plantation cycle and establish fair in-stream flow standards that sustain public stream use and protect the environment, Moriwake said.

“;The plantations were started on the backs of the kuleana workers,”; Duey said, adding that about 60 million gallons are diverted daily by HC&S (Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.) and Wailuku Water Co., which leaves about 11 million gallons in the four streams about half of the time, Duey said.

Since HC&S and Wailuku Water Co. are the only remaining plantations in Maui, they need less water from the streams than they did at sugar's height, he said.

“;Yet, for the most part, water is being hoarded by former agricultural interests for future private development projects,”; he said. “;They are selling public water for private profit.”;

Duey said returning half of the water to the streams would be a good starting point for HC&S and Wailuku Water Co. and that it's greedy for these companies to ask for more water.

“;They have 10 pieces of candy, and I have one,”; he said. “;Why should I give them half?”;

Duey is a strong crusader but dry streams make him emotional.

“;I almost can't talk about it,”; Duey said, pausing to avoid tears. “;When I take my grandchildren to play in the streams, there should be water.”;