OHA applauds high court decision on Maui water rights
HONOLULU (August 15, 2012) – The Office of Hawaiian Affairs is hailing a decision by the Hawai‘i Supreme Court vacating the State Commission on Water Resource Management’s decision regarding four central Maui streams. Several community groups along with OHA argued flow should be restored to these streams to protect and preserve the rights of the community, particularly traditional and customary practices such as taro cultivation.
The four major streams are Waihe‘e, Waiehu, ‘Īao and Waikapū. Together they are known as Nā Wai ‘Ehā or “The four great waters.”
“OHA has long supported the community’s efforts to restore mauka to makai flow to the streams of Nā Wai ‘Ehā, and is optimistic that this decision clears the way for a more balanced sharing of these public trust water resources,” said Colette Machado, Chairperson of the OHA Board of Trustees. “This long-overdue victory protects the cultural and traditional rights of Native Hawaiians and will have a far-reaching effect. The ruling shows agencies must protect natural resources that are critical not only to our immediate well-being, but to the very survival of our culture and way of life.”
OHA Chief Executive Officer Kamana‘opono Crabbe says the ruling has a far-reaching effect and hopes that all government agencies take note.
“OHA is pleased that the Hawai‘i Supreme Court has once again reiterated the legal obligation of State agencies to protect the exercise of traditional and customary native Hawaiian rights and practices to the extent feasible, and hopes that the Water Commission, and other State agencies, will at last take the Court’s admonitions to heart,” Crabbe said.
At the heart of the issue is a more than 100-year-old irrigation ditch system that currently diverts the vast majority of the water from the streams of Nā Wai ‘Ehā for the sugar industry, leaving large portions of the streams dry. Since 2004, taro farmers and community groups launched several efforts to return water to the area, whose streams, extolled by Hawaiians in song, in what was once called the largest continuous area of taro cultivation in Hawai‘i.
OHA, Hui o Nā Wai ‘Ehā, and Maui Tomorrow appealed the commission’s decision which, contrary to the recommendation of a hearing officer, failed to restore any water at all to two of the four streams and failed to protect traditional and customary rights to the extent feasible. The Hawai‘i Supreme Court agreed that the Commission’s decision violated the public trust.