Hawaii Commission Proposes Stream Flow Restoration

The state of Hawai`i’s Commission on Water Resource Management recently issued a proposed ruling to restore flow to four major streams on Maui known as Na Wai `Eha, or “The Four Waters” of Waihe`e River and Waiehu, `Ïao, and Waikapü streams.

Currently, diversion systems built during the sugar plantation era drain the streams dry, even after major reductions in plantation agriculture. The 210-page proposed decision, authored by Hearings Officer and Water Commissioner Lawrence Miike, would restore 34.5 million gallons a day to Na Wai `Eha, or around half of the diverted flows.

The proposed decision is the first step by the commission to resolve a legal battle dating back to 2004, when Maui community groups Hui o Na Wai `Eha and Maui Tomorrow Foundation, represented by Earthjustice, petitioned the commission to restore the streams. In partnership with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the community groups have pursued this legal action so that the streams would support native stream life and community uses such as traditional wetland kalo farming.

The commission’s Hearings Officer issued the proposed decision after conducting a lengthy administrative trial that extended from December 2007 to October 2008 and involved dozens of witnesses and hundreds of pages of exhibits and briefs. The proposed decision now goes to the entire commission, which will receive the parties' written objections on May 11, hear oral argument at a later date, then issue a final decision.

"After a century of diversions, we are encouraged by this important step toward restoring life-giving stream flows back to Na Wai `Eha,” said John Duey, president of Hui o Na Wai `Eha and longtime resident of `Ïao Valley. "These legendary streams deserve to be protected for present and future generations."

Na Wai `Eha are perennial streams that traditionally supported a rich native aquatic ecosystem and a thriving Native Hawaiian community cultivating the largest continuous area of wetland kalo fields in the Hawaiian Islands. Since the plantation era, however, two companies have diverted most of the stream flows of Na Wai `Eha. One company, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar, a division of Alexander & Baldwin, Inc., operates one of Hawai`i's last sugar plantations on Maui’s central plain. The other company, Wailuku Water Company, is the remnant of C. Brewer & Co.'s former Wailuku Sugar plantation, which sold all its former farmlands for development and is now pursuing the business of selling the diverted stream water.

The proposed decision concludes that restoration of stream flows will benefit public instream uses while "accommodating both instream and offstream uses where feasible." Notably, the proposed decision confirms that Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar has reasonable alternatives to Na Wai `Eha water, including the millions of gallons a day it has historically used from its nonpotable wells, as well as the ability to minimize its ongoing loss of 9 to 12 million gallons a day from its unlined reservoirs and ditches.