One of Hawaiʻi’s largest water rights cases is coming to a close on Maui next month after more than 16 years. The resolution is up to the state Water Commission—which will decide who gets water and how much.
Once the Water Commision restored streamflow to Nā Wai ʻEhā five years ago, Waikapū taro farmer Hōkūao Pellegrino thought the heavy lifting was over. The state set the minimum amount of water that needs to stay in the streams – an amount known as the interim instream flow standard. Anyone seeking rights to the remaining water could join the contested case hearing.
“After 16 years of this, we still are very far from seeking justice in terms of compliance to the interim instream flow standards that already exist and monitoring of our streams to ensure that off-stream diverters like Wailuku Water Company and Mahi Pono comply.”
Last month, Pellegrino’s group of kuleana landowners and taro farmers filed a formal complaint with the Water Commission accusing private corporations Wailuku Water Company and Mahi Pono of diverting more water than allowed. Both companies deny the claims.
Shan Tsutsui, Senior Vice President of Operations at Mahi Pono said in an emailed statement that the company “is committed to sustainable, responsible water use and will continue working with the community toward the long-term protection of Maui’s water resources”
The Water Commission is currently investigating the group’s claims and if a violation is found, fines will follow. Pellegrino says he’s had a good working relationship with the Commission over the years but he says they are under staffed and underfunded.
“We see what happens to the streams every single day when there's no monitoring no compliance. And it's not fair for our native aquatic stream life, it’s not fair for our resources, it’s not fair for our people and the kupuna who have waited, you know over a 150 years to see these streams come back to life.”
This is all coming less than a month before the Water Commission is set to hear closing arguments in the Nā Wai ʻEhā contested case hearing. Even after the Commission reaches a decision, compliance and enforcement may be another set of challenges.