Restore streams, revitalize Native Hawaiian communities
Sierra Club Maui Group stands for the protection of our native ecosystem and the rights of traditional taro farmers to the public water in our streams. For decades, a private corporation, Alexander & Baldwin has diverted public water from streams in East Maui. Because streams in East Maui run dry taro patches are cracked, stream ecosystems are decimated, and more sustainable rural ways of living are lost. This is a form of cultural genocide and ecological destruction that should no longer be tolerated.
The Public Trust Doctrine prioritizes customary, traditional practices and the health of native streams and coastal life over private commercial uses. Current A&B diversion continue to remove most of the water from several East Maui streams, leaving dry rock beds and stagnant water, however the practice has never undergone any time of environmental review. Demonstrating a sever lack of stewardship over their private water, A&B loses an average of 41 million gallons per day mostly due to unlined reservoirs and aging pipes. This is unacceptable and detrimental to cultural practices and public health of stream ecosystems and East Maui residents.
Click here for a timeline about the East Maui water issue
2016 BLNR Decision on Revocable Permit
In December 2016, A&B went before the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) seeking four new revocable permits (for the year 2017) to continue to divert water. A&B sought to continue diverting the same amount of water through these permits, despite the fact that sugar cane was no longer going to be cultivated and they had released no plans for the thousands of acres previously used to grow sugar. The board voted 5–2 to grant A&B and EMI the four permits the companies needed despite six hours worth of testimony from more than 40 individuals and organizations urging the board to deny the permits.
The board’s decision to approve the renewal of the four revocable permits came with stipulations that were at least a step in the right direction. These stipulations include capping the amount of water A&B will be allowed to extract from the East Maui ecosystem at 80 million gallons per day (down from the previous 160 million gallons per day that the company has been taking up to this point), enforcing the July 2016 mandate that A&B fully restore stream flow in seven East Maui streams vital for taro farming, as well as adding Honomanu Stream to the list of the streams to be restored, and removing all structures adversely affecting the health of native stream species in the ecosystem.
In 2016, A&B went before the Legislature in 2016 and asked them to retroactively legalize "hold-over permits" in the form of HB2501, so that they could continue to steal the water from East Maui farmers and the native ecosystem with impunity. In June 2016, HB2501 was passed into law, legitimizing the historic theft of millions of gallons of public water from the streams of East Maui by changing Hawaii Revised Statute 171 to allow for “hold-over” permits. This allows the Department of Land and Natural Resources to perpetually renew short-term permits for the use of 33,000 acres of public land without proper consideration and mitigation of the harms it causes to our unique natural environment and cultural practices.
Why is HB2501 bad?
- It allows one big corporation to waste millions of gallons of freshwater every day, while the streams run dry and Hawaiian farmers are starved from their land.
- It circumvents the established process for requesting access to public water.
- It rewards A&B for manipulating the permitting system for years.
- It contradicts longstanding public policies in place to protect streams, freshwater, traditional farming practices, and our imperiled natural environment.
Alexander & Baldwin, East Maui Irrigation, and Hawaii Commercial & Sugar
Who is A&B, EMI, HC&S?
Alexander & Baldwin (A&B), which owns East Maui Irrigation (EMI), and Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) was founded in Hawaii in 1870 by the descendants of missionaries as a sugar plantation. Now that sugar no longer makes significant profits, the company has evolved into a commercial real estate developer. At one point, it was one of the largest landowners and employers in Hawaii. Because of this “too big to fail” status, A&B has received a lot of special treatment over the years… like access to the public’s water for cheap.
Does A&B need all the water that they take from the stream?
No. A&B is a water hog. The current recommendation before the Water Commission for the in-stream flow standards for the East Maui streams concludes that A&B has diverted and wasted around 41 million gallons of water every day for decades — they simply do not need all the water they are taking. They are hogging the public’s water for their own potential benefit, and harming the health of our people and our environment at the same time.
If we restore the water to the stream, will A&B be without water?
No. A&B has plenty of water. Without the current “hold over permits,” A&B still has at least 80 million gallons of water a day from private sources they control. And that is enough for diversified agriculture. If all of A&B’s land in central Maui were cultivated in diversified crops, then according to the Water Commission they would need around 75 million gallons a day.
What about the workers? If water is restored to the streams, will people be unemployed?
No. HC&S has closed and laid off its workforce because the company cannot compete with cheaper sugar grown in other parts of the world. Restoring water to the streams is not the reason HC&S has shut down.
There are opportunities to create new jobs in diversified agriculture. The closing of HC&S opens up the opportunity for new kinds of agriculture to take root in Maui. Diversified agriculture — lots of small farms growing a wide variety of products — is the best course of action for the future of agriculture in Hawaii. And, as water is restored to the streams there will be more opportunities for people who have lived along the streams for generations to return to traditional farming, if they would like to.
The main thing that must be done when deciding how to allocate water resources is to make sure there is a balance between the needs of the stream ecosystem, the taro farmers, and the other forms of agricultural uses. That is where the Commission on Water Resource Management comes in and why an Environmental Impact Statement is so important.
How did A&B get access to the public’s water in the first place?
Since the early days of sugar plantations in Hawaii, A&B/EMI/HC&S has taken millions of gallons of water every day from the East Maui streams without consideration for the harm to the ecosystem or proper compensation to other water users, like traditional taro farmers. In the early 2000’s A&B sought a 30-year lease for thousands of acres of public trust land and permits to continue diversion of unlimited amounts of public water.
A&B leases were challenged by East Maui residents who were legally entitled to adequate water resources in their streams and taro patches, but A&B/EMI/HC&S were still able to divert unlimited water, through the form of month-to-month revocable permits given to them by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, paying a total of $160,000 a year to “transport” nearly 60 billion gallons. These permits are summarily renewed every year — no environmental impact statement, no mitigation for the harm to the ecosystem or the taro farmers, no public auction. The law does not technically allow for this practice that is now known as “hold over permits.” The Department of Land and Natural Resources invented this concept on its own for the exclusive benefit of A&B and its subsidiaries. That is why A&B went before the Legislature in 2016 and asked them to retroactively legalize this concept, so that they can continue to steal the water from East Maui farmers and the native ecosystem with impunity.