He wai e mana, he wai e ola, e ola nō ʻeā. On October 10, 2019, the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) approved another one-year “holdover” permit that would allow Alexander & Baldwin (A&B) to divert water from East Maui streams on state lands. BLNR also approved an increase of the cap on water take to 45 million gallons a day from 35 million gallons a day.
We need to end these made-up “holdover” water revocable permits to ensure that water is a public trust. The BLNR has failed to recognize the public trust purposes and competing reasonable beneficial uses that may be substantially impacted by the proposed continuation of these permits. Major diversions have compromised the ability of practitioners to gather from naturally flowing streams. The absence of freshwater springs flowing into nearshore marine waters has destroyed sea life that relies on fresh water to complete their life cycles.
In 2016, a Circuit Court judge ruled that holdover permits issued for 13 years at a time were not temporary, and in violation of the law. This case follows Hawaiʻi Supreme Court cases, amendments to the Hawaiʻi State Constitution, and the Water Code that affirm the public trust in water. In 2018, the Water Commission set instream flow standards for East Maui streams diverted by A&B. The impact of the BLNR’s latest decision on the flow standards for 27 streams in East Maui are not known, including 13 streams not included in the ruling.
While flow restorations are the first step in providing Native Hawaiian and local communities with water in over a century, continued stream diversions have harmed the East Maui watershed and the people who rely on it. The water was never A&B’s to divert in the first place. For Native Hawaiians, appropriately managing freshwater resources was a true kuleana to uphold for present and future generations; no one could waste or own water.
The State has set an ambitious goal of doubling local food production by 2020. Mahi Pono envisions more than 4,000 acres of non-GMO food crops, including potatoes, macadamia nuts and limes, and 12,000 acres of fenced pasture for livestock operations by next year. I look at Mahi Pono’s success as greatly contributing to Maui’s success and the State’s success in meeting its food production goals.
While I wish Mahi Pono much success in their operations, it’s also crucial that they provide for their specific water needs to make sure that they are not wasting water, and that they have mauka-to-makai stream flow for the generations of families in Maui who have had seen their natural streams and ecosystems depleted. I would encourage Mahi Pono to include firm figures on its crops, to install water gauges on each diverted stream, and to determine the amount of water it would take for its crops to grow. For the BLNR to properly grant a permit, they have the duty to make their own investigation and assessment; they may not simply turn a blind eye to potential impacts on our environment and Native Hawaiian farmers.
Despite constitutional and statutory protections, Native Hawaiians dependent on these free-flowing streams still face hurdles. I would love to see the ideal of a vibrant local food industry diversifying our economy. The BLNR must properly recognize the public trust purposes, and identify traditional and customary practices of our Native Hawaiian farmers who have been abandoned for far too long. As our future begins to unfold, I hope the waters give strength to our communities to work to secure justice for our Kānaka Maoli in a pono way.
E ola i ka wai.