East Maui Water Under Renewed Attack by A&B

The people of East Maui have long awaited the full return of water to their streams. Almost all of their water has been taken by Alexander & Baldwin Company, which has been diverting millions of gallons of water every day for decades primarily for its commercial sugar production. We know there is more than enough water to ensure diversified agriculture (including hemp) on Maui, for healthy streams and a vibrant taro-growing community. There is more water flowing through the streams of East Maui every day than is consumed on the entire island of O‘ahu. Now that A&B has announced its last sugar plantation will close by the end of 2016 and the courts have ruled the state improperly allowed A&B to continue diverting water from public land without permits, we expect the streams to flow again.

But the streams have not been fully restored. Despite ongoing litigation which has invalidated their water permits in addition to an incomplete contested case, A&B is using its billion-dollar political influence to aggressively pursue a bill in the state legislature to evade a court ruling against them. Proposed measure HB2501 would allow A&B to divert an unlimited amount of water indefinitely without environmental review or mitigation for the harm to East Maui residents who rely on that water for drinking, bathing, cooking, and growing taro.

To begin to restore the balance in our environment and justice in our community, A&B’s “water theft” bill (HB2501) cannot be adopted into law. The only way we will be able to defend the public right to water is through massive public participation in the legislative process.

It is not impossible. Just this year, massive public opposition stopped the forced sale of Hawaiian trust lands and the senate version of this awful “water theft” bill, SB3001. We can do it again and we must.

For the health of our streams, for public water rights, for the success of our taro farmers, please take action today to stop HB2501.

To stop HB2501, we urgently request that House Finance (FIN) Chair Sylvia Luke, Vice Chair Scott Nishimoto, and East Maui Representative Lynn DeCoite, do everything in their power to ensure this bill does not advance. We know they are sympathetic to our concerns, but also know that A&B is exerting a lot of pressure to pass this bill. Keep in mind that the FIN Committee can decide to pass HB2501 without taking any additional testimony. So it is crucial to contact these Representatives now, and let them know they have the public’s support to permanently stop HB2501.

Click here to send testimony Kahea has already written (with the option to edit and make it your own)! Make sure to mention if any of the committee members are your district representatives! You can also share this link on social media to get your friends and family to submit opposition too!

If instead you want to send your own e-mail, read on for facts to help you craft your own letter, as well as relevant contact information. Please remember to let them know if you are in any of their districts!

Check out these resources for background information about this historic fight:
Timeline created by the Sierra Club
Excellent video by Kamakako`i: hear from the farmers who need our help


The Public Trust doctrine prioritizes customary, traditional practices and the health of native streams and coastal life over private commercial uses. If passed, this bill would allow commercial users to divert millions of gallons of public water per day and avoid protections for both Hawaiian and public water interests indefinitely, with no limitations on the amount or duration of the diversion.

Current A&B diversions remove almost all water from several East Maui streams leaving dry rock beds and stagnant water, however the practice has never undergone any type of environmental review. This bill circumvents public trust protections by allowing private users to evade Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) and Environmental Assessments (EA) required for revocable permits.

A&B does not need public water. A&B holds 33,000 acres in Central Maui of which 23,000 are designated Important Agricultural Lands (IAL.) Court documents submitted by A&B indicate there are 132 million gallons per day available from their existing private sources.

Demonstrating a severe 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. The remaining 91 million gallons of water per day average would be more than sufficient to meet the approximate water duty for A&B water and land commitments in East Maui.

A&B recently declared plans to harvest its last 17,000 acres of cultivated sugarcane by the end of 2016 and expressed the intent to convert those fields to diversified agriculture in the future. Diversified agriculture needs less than half the water for sugarcane or about 2,500 gallons of water per acre per day. With an average of about 42.5 million gallons of water per day for diversified agriculture on all cultivated acres and a $2 million annual contract with the County of Maui to supply 9 million gallons of water per day for Upcountry residents, 91 million gallons of water per day would more than sufficiently satisfy approximate A&B irrigation needs. Even if A&B were to grow on 30,000 acres, they only need about 75 million gallons of water per day to cultivate diverse crops.

A&B could seek the same relief the County of Maui received in Circuit Court by requesting a stay of enforcement while they appeal the Circuit Court’s invalidation of their holdover status. A&B would simply need to explain to the Court how much water they need and why, as the County did. Since the 1980’s, A&B has paid the State of Hawai‘i only $160,000 for use of 33,000 acres of public land, and 164 million gallons per day on average of diverted public water in East Maui alone. This bill would continue to subsidize the profits of a multi-billion dollar company receiving special status over the interests of the public trust.

FIN Chair: Representative Sylvia Luke, District 13, Makiki, Punchbowl, Nuuanu, Dowsett Highlands, Pacific Heights, Pauoa 808-586-6200 RepLuke@capitol.hawaii.gov

FIN Vice Chair: Representative Scott Nishimoto, District 21, Kapahulu, McCully, Moiliili 808-586-8515 RepNishimoto@capitol.hawaii.gov

East Maui Rep: RepresentativeLynn DeCoite, District 13 Haiku, Hana, Kaupo, Kipahulu, Nahiku, Paia, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Moloka’i, Molokini 808-586-6790 RepDeCoite@capitol.hawaii.gov

Email all the members of the Finance committee at: FINtestimony@hawaii.capitol.gov

You can help inspire others to participate by also sending your testimony to the editors of our local publications: