Na Wai Eha Streams Restored

From MauiNow
By Wendy Osher

More water will be returned to streams of N? Wai ?Eh?, particularly water in ??ao, under an agreement reached in the N? Wai ?Eh? contested case hearing, state officials announced today.

The latest developments come after a decade-long battle over water rights and the health of the streams, with partial restoration of water ordered and implemented in 2010.

The settlement establishes a new interim instream flow standard, or the minimum required flow, of up to 10 mgd for Wailuku (??ao) Stream, and 2.9 mgd for Waikap? Stream. It also maintains the previous restorations of 10 mgd for Waihe?e River and 2.5 mgd for Waiehu Stream.

The waters are collectively known as N? Wai ?Eh? or “the four great waters.”

According to an announcement from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the parties in the case addressed six issues including the effect of instream flows on traditional and customary practices, and alternative management actions.

Parties in the case included: Hui o N? Wai ?Eh?, the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, Wailuku Water Company, and the County of Maui Department of Water Supply.

The agreement was reached with the assistance of mediator Robbie Alm and Hearing Officer Dr. Larry Miike. A final review and approval of the settlement was made by the state Attorney General.

Read the rest of this article at MauiNow

Background from EarthJustice:

In central Maui, a system of fresh water streams that sustained thriving Hawaiian communities since time immemorial is all dried up. Known as Na Wai `Eha or “The Four Great Waters,” these streams have been diverted for more than a century to irrigate sugar plantations. Now, on their sloping path from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean, parched earth is mostly what remains of these vital waterways for much of the year.

One might assume from the dry state of Na Wai `Eha that sugar cultivation is still a thriving industry on Maui. But it’s not. Over the past decade, the major water diverter—Wailuku Sugar Company—stopped growing sugarcane and began selling off the plantation to private developers. Yet it continues to drain the streams like before.

Private Companies Hoarding Water—A Public Trust Resource

Why? Wailuku Sugar Company has reinvented itself as Wailuku Water Company. It maintains its water diversions to turn a profit by selling that water to the private development projects built on the former plantation lands. Wailuku hoards the “surplus” that it hopes to sell to future developments by giving it in the meantime to Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar, which uses the water as a cheap alternative to its non-potable agricultural wells, or dumps it on sandy fields it wouldn’t otherwise farm. But the water isn’t the companies’ to sell or to waste.

Water in Hawai`i is a public trust resource, protected by the Hawai`i Constitution for the benefit of all Hawai`i’s people. The state has a duty to protect and restore traditional and customary Hawaiian practices, ecological uses, recreation, scenic values, and many other public uses of flowing stream water. Protecting private water banking and profiteering is not one of the state’s responsibilities—restoring Na Wai `Eha is.

The Many Functions of Na Wai `Eha

Na Wai `Eha streamflow helps recharge the ground water supply that sustains more than half of Maui’s residents and visitors. Native stream animals, wetlands, estuaries, and nearshore fisheries need a continuous supply of fresh water in order to remain healthy and functional. Streams need flow to support swimming, fishing, nature study, and aesthetic enjoyment.

And local communities need cool, flowing stream water for traditional wetland kalo (taro) cultivation, the staple food of the traditional Native Hawaiian diet. At one time, Na Wai `Eha supported Maui’s political center and fed the largest continuous area of wetland kalo fields in the Hawaiian Islands.

When companies began diverting streamflow for their sugar crops, kalo cultivation by Native Hawaiian communities suffered. Community members continue to cultivate some kalo where they can, but the streams of Na Wai `Eha must be restored to revive this important cultural tradition to its full potential. Flowing streams will also provide habitat for native stream species and reinvigorate traditional and customary practices, including subsistence gathering.

A 6-Year Legal Battle

The legal battle over Na Wai `Eha streamflow dates back to 2004, when Maui community groups Hui o Na Wai `Eha and Maui Tomorrow Foundation, represented by Earthjustice, petitioned the Hawai`i Commission on Water Resource Management to restore the streams. A lengthy trial followed through 2007 and 2008, and in April 2009, the Commission’s Hearings Officer issued a proposed decision to restore about half of the diverted flows to Na Wai `Eha—a total of 34.5 million gallons a day. Final arguments were heard in October 2009, and a final decision is expected soon.

Restoring streamflow means restoring vitality to Na Wai `Eha and the Native Hawaiian and local communities that depend on The Four Great Waters that nourished Maui long before the sugar industry disrupted their ecological and cultural functions.