East Maui taro farmer Ed Wendt says the restored streamflow is critical to building a vibrant community. -Photos: Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation

For decades, generations of Native Hawaiian East Maui residents, including members of Nā Moku Aupuni O Ko‘olau Hui, Lurlyn Scott and Sanford Kekahuna, have sought justice through the return of streamflows vital to their life and culture. Those valiant efforts are captured in the watershed decision issued in July by the state Commission on Water Resource Management.

The commission’s 300-page decision establishes minimum interim stream flow standards for 25 East Maui streams flowing throughout the moku of Ko‘olau. The streams start in the ahupua‘a of Nahiku with Makapipi Stream, continue through the historic kalo farming communities of Wailua and Ke‘anae, and extend to the moku of Hāmākua loa and the residents of Huelo and Honopou Valleys. The vast area covered by these streams includes 33,000 acres of Crown lands held in trust for Native Hawaiians and the public. The new flow standards call for the full restoration of 10 of these streams, the majority of which support kalo cultivation and were dry before Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation filed 27 petitions on the community’s behalf in 2001. “The ordered return of all flows to streams diverted for over 100 years is an unprecedented feat,” said Summer Sylva, one of a team of NHLC attorneys who have represented Hawaiian clients with ancestral ties to Ko‘olau and Hāmākualoa in this two decades-long litigation.

“Our community spread its wings over the whole of the Ko‘olau and accomplished something great for the waters of Kāne, for our kūpuna, for all the people of Ko‘olau, for all people of Hawaiian ancestry, and for our public trust.”

— Ed Wendt, President of Na Moku Aupuni o Ko‘olau Hui

Photo: Waterfall
Water that had been diverted from East Maui streams for agriculture for more than a century will be restored. Photos: Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation

The commission also required 90 percent habitat recovery for five additional streams, and committed to achieving mauka-to-makai flows for all previously diverted streams. “For two decades, our clients have remained steadfast in their demand that the state fulfill its affirmative duty, as the primary guardian of our public trust resources, to mālama ‘āina, mālama kahawai, and mālama honua,” Sylva said. “The litigation, though long and arduous, was not in vain.”

This historic decision vindicates the unwavering commitment and sacrifice of generations of East Maui kama‘āina, including farmers, fishermen and women, hunters, gatherers, recreational users and stewards who fought to protect the streams and all life supported by and dependent on East Maui’s natural bounty. Two of NHLC’s original clients who are now with us in spirit, Beatrice Kekahuna and Marjorie Wallet, deserve special mention. “Their unyielding resolve and tenacity inspired us all, and ensured their kuleana would be carried out,” said NHLC attorney Alan Murakami.

On behalf of our clients, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation extends its mahalo to those who supported this East Maui effort and without whom we could not have maintained a nearly two decades-long advocacy. In particular, we are grateful to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, the Frost Foundation and the individual donors who made this work possible.

Upon learning of the favorable decision, Ed Wendt, President of Na Moku Aupuni o Ko‘olau Hui, said, “Our community spread its wings over the whole of the Ko‘olau and accomplished something great for the waters of Kāne, for our kūpuna, for all the people of Ko‘olau, for all people of Hawaiian ancestry, and for our public trust.” Armed with this decision, East Maui will have the water and the tools required “to build a vibrant community, a vibrant future for our keiki, our mo‘opuna and our future generations, who will inherit this legacy as their own kuleana.”

Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chair Colette Machado, Maui Trustee Hulu Lindsey and Ka Pouhana Kamana‘opono Crabbe issued a statement following the decision:

“The Native Hawaiian communities of East Maui have fought for 30 years for the restoration of sufficient stream flow to support their kalo farming, subsistence practices, and native stream and coastal marine life, as required under the state constitution and laws. That the contested case hearing underlying yesterday’s decision has taken nearly two decades to resolve is in many ways an injustice in itself.

“While OHA is still fully reviewing the 300-page document, we believe the decision represents a significant step to achieving justice for our East Maui beneficiaries who have sought a fairer distribution of public trust water that has been monopolized by industrial sugar interests for more than a century.

“OHA expresses its gratitude to the attorneys of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, who for over a decade have worked tirelessly to vindicate the rights wrongfully denied to our East Maui beneficiaries; to the hearings officer and commission members and staff who have dedicated a substantial amount time and resources to hopefully correct this ongoing injustice; and most of all to our beneficiaries themselves who have sacrificed so much to hold the state and powerful corporate interests accountable to our constitution and to the public trust.”

For more information about the struggle in East Maui, visit www.kamakakoi.com/eastmaui.