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OHA: Office of Hawaiian Affairs

It's been 14-long years since the East Maui community originally brought the case before the Water Commission. Enforcement of the law is long overdue. Learn how you can help at kamakakoi.com.

After years of waiting, East Maui hui’s case finally being heard

KAHULUI (Mar. 2, 2015) — Today, the State Commission on Water Resource Management (Water Commission) will re-engage a case that’s been languishing for years. It involves ʻohana from Honopou to Wailuanui in East Maui who have been farming kalo for centuries. The law is on their side, yet compliance with the law remains elusive. At issue are their legally protected rights to have healthy streams flowing through their communities and to use the water and resources associated with those streams, issues that were originally brought to the attention of the Water Commission back in 2001.

The hui (group) of kalo farmers that has come together to restore stream flow to East Maui streams is Nā Moku Aupuni o Koʻolau Hui. They are represented by attorneys of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, an entity that is provided funding by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

The rights of the East Maui families originate from kānāwai—traditional laws set forth by aliʻi nui (ruling chiefs) for the management and use of fresh water—which were codified in early laws of the Hawaiian Kingdom. The same rights are preserved today in the Hawaiʻi State Constitution (Article XII, Section 7 and Article XI, Sections 7 and 9 ) and Water Code (HRS Chapter 174C).

These laws protect streams, ensuring that they have adequate water flowing through them to support:

  • The cultivation of healthy crops, including loʻi kalo on kuleana
  • Thriving stream life
  • Thriving ocean life, which is dependent on freshwater
  • Families exercising their traditional and customary rights to gather resources supported by freshwater, including resources to feed their families
  • Community members enjoyment of stream recreation activities
  • Adequate recharge of underground aquifers
  • Domestic uses
  • Beautiful, healthy environments

The problem is that the legal rights of these East Maui ʻohana have not been respected or honored.

East Maui Irrigation (EMI)—a subsidiary of Alexander and Baldwin—extracts about 160 million gallons of water daily from over 100 East Maui streams through its extensive ditch system, some of which is extracted from 33,000 acres of “ceded” lands held by the state. EMI does not hold a long-term lease or license to extract water from these 33,000 acres. However, the State Department of Land and Natural Resources continues to allow EMI to access these lands and extract water for their commercial use, notwithstanding the impacts to the stream and the people that rely upon it.

Additionally, the Water Commission, charged with upholding the state’s Water Code, has allowed these diversions to persist without adequate consideration for the needs of the Hui and other members of the public.

Nā Moku’s case before the Water Commission seeks to have Hawaiʻi’s laws enforced, which would provide the people of East Maui a fair share of water from the streams in their communities.

If Nā Moku is successful in the March hearing, the outcome would provide kalo farmers an opportunity to sustain invaluable traditions, restore ecosystems, and reinvigorate their communities united by a common resource enjoyed and cared for by all—the richest resource of any community—its healthy, abundant water supply. These are rights they are already granted by law. It’s now up to the Water Commission to ensure these rights are realized.

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