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Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Panel lets ditch
water allocation
stand for now

Further Waiahole Ditch
diversions await the setting
of flow standards

By Pat Omandam

There will be no changes in the water flow of Waiahole Ditch until the state Water Commission decides once again how much water should be allocated between Leeward agricultural fields and Windward streams.

Linnel Nishioka, deputy director of the state Commission on Water Resource Management, said the panel issued an interim order yesterday halting further diversions from the Windward streams until interim flow standards -- the amount of water allowed to flow through the ditch -- are set.

"By issuing a stay on any further diversions until in-stream flow standards are set, the commission is carrying out its public trust responsibilities," Nishioka said. "The commission has a constitutional mandate to protect and preserve surface and ground waters for future generations."

It is an obligation the panel takes seriously, she added.

The commission's action is in response to an Aug. 22 ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court that told the panel to review its December 1997 decision, which allocated water from the ditch. The justices strongly urged commissioners to consider the preservation and protection of natural resources when it decides new flow standards for the ditch.

Currently, Leeward agriculture and other interests have access to 15.61 million gallons of ditch water per day, while 11.39 million gallons stay on the Windward side. Yesterday's order by the commission freezes that amount for now.

The ditch has the capacity to channel about 27 million gallons of water per day, which it did for nearly 80 years from Waiahole and Waikane valleys to Central Oahu for sugar cane irrigation.

In its opinion, the high court voided the permit issued to Campbell Estate for use of ditch water because it said the commission had not adequately addressed why Campbell retained unused permits to pump 35 million gallons per day from beneath its own lands.

In response, Campbell Estate asked the high court to reconsider and/or clarify its opinion. The court denied their motion on Sept. 27. Dave Rae, Campbell Estate's public affairs manager, said the estate will work with the commission on setting future use of ditch water.

"Our concern remains for the Leeward farmers who depend on this water for survival," Rae said.

Waiahole farmer Charlie Reppun called the Supreme Court ruling a huge step toward making resource allocations with the island ecology in mind.

"The Supreme Court affirmed the commission's finding that the higher the volume of flow, the greater the support for the stream ecosystem, and put to rest the notion that water allowed to flow naturally to the ocean is waste," Reppun said at the time.

Nishioka said community feedback will be critical, and hopes the commission will be able to hold community meetings on its proposal before final approval.

Additional money and staff will likely be needed to fulfill the commission's trust responsibility, she said.

"It is a huge mandate that will definitely require lots of additional resources," Nishioka said.

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