Sunday, April 15, 2001

Seisuke Serikaku holds ti leaves that he picked at his farm
in Waiahole. Leeward and Windward interests disagree on
how water from Waiahole ditch should be
divided between them.

Campbell Estate
looks at wells vs.
Waiahole water

Kunia farms may not survive
without ditch water, the estate says

Makakilo golf course denied Waiahole water

By Pat Omandam

Will diversified agriculture survive in Kunia without water from Waiahole Ditch?

That's one of the issues pondered by Campbell Estate, which is weighing its investment as lessor to several farms in Kunia against a Hawaii Supreme Court opinion questioning whether the estate should use ground water from wells instead of ditch water for its farming leases.

The dispute is the latest surrounding the 86-year-old ditch, originally built to ferry water to Central and Leeward Oahu sugar cane fields. Today, the sugar industry is gone, and the ditch is the center of contention between Leeward and Windward interests.

The ditch is now owned by the state.

"As I understand, each of the farmers in the Kunia Water Co-op makes a minimum commitment to ensure the ditch's continued operational viability," testified Bert L. Hatton, Campbell Estate's manager of agricultural lands and natural resources.

Campbell was granted use of 5.28 million gallons of water per day from the ditch.

"If you subtract Campbell Estate's leases from the equation, survival for all the remaining farmers becomes more tenuous," Hatton told the state Commission on Water Resource Management. "So we have to weigh the investment that needs to be made to put in new wells along with the long-term prospects for agriculture in the region."

The estate and several others parties with interest in using the percolated Koolau rainwater drawn from the wooden ditch testified before a water commission hearing April 4 to address concerns raised by the Hawaii high court.

Last summer, the Hawaii justices said the panel must redo several portions of water use permits that it granted in its December 1997 Waiahole Ditch contested case ruling because of insufficient evidence or inadequate findings.

Of the 27 million gallons that flow through the ditch each day, the commission granted Leeward agriculture and other interests access to 15.61 millions gallons per day, while letting 11.39 million gallons flow naturally through Windward streams to Kaneohe Bay.

Windward interests appealed the decision. The Hawaii court heard arguments in December 1999 and ruled Aug. 22, 2000.

Commission Deputy Director Linnel T. Nishioka said last week the panel expected the remand hearing to take seven days - the 1997 contested-case hearing took six months - but hearings officer Dr. Lawrence H. Miike did it in one day.

"It started and ended on April 4," Nishioka said.

Closing arguments are now set for April 24, and all parties have until noon April 26 to propose how the commission should rule.

Makakilo golf course
can’t use Waiahole water,
high court rules

By Pat Omandam

The Hawaii Supreme Court vacated the water allocated to a company developing a hillside golf course in Makakilo because it could access ground water from wells.

Gilbert D. Butson, attorney for Pu'u Makakilo Inc., testified there is no practical groundwater source available to irrigate the property and its deed prevents it from drilling an on-site well.

Butson wants the commission to reinstate the 750,000 gallons per day it originally granted because none of the other options for other sources of water worked.

"Our only practicable source of irrigation water is the continued use of Waiahole Ditch water," Butson said.

Another issue of the seven raised by the Supreme Court is the need for 2,500 gallons an acre a day over all acres of diversified agriculture in Central Oahu.

Farmers, however, testified they need that level of ditch water to survive.

Robinson Estate attorney Stephen Mau, who represents farmers Larry Jefts and Alec Sou, said the two presently farm 1,248 acres on Robinson lands and need all the water granted to them.

The amount is the average needed for diversified agriculture and is based on an entire year of all crops in various stages of cultivation, he said.

"In allowing Waiahole water to be used in Central Oahu, the commission has given the farmers a chance to succeed ... " Mau testified.

"These farmers have not failed. And the allocation should not be restricted or reduced."

Witness Stephanie Whalen, research director at the Hawaii Agricultural Research Center - formerly Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association - is president of the Kunia Water Cooperative, a group made up of Leeward users of ditch water which assures the ditch owner receives a set minimum income for the water.

Whalen testified co-op members haven't expanded their farms as much as they wanted because of the uncertainty of ditch water.

"It's a case of judgment regarding the risks you're taking as a farmer," Whalen said.

"Farmers need a certain comfort level to expand," she said. "In order to secure a loan, one of the lending institution's criteria would be assurance that a farmer could grow the crop successfully. That means having the necessary water to grow crops."

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