Hawaiʻi Farmers, Ranchers Lobby for Water Bill

Apr 12, 2019

Dozens of farmers and ranchers from across the state sat in the Senate gallery today after lobbying legislators to help them find a solution to their soon-to-be expired water permits.
Credit Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Farmers and ranchers from across the state met with Governor David Ige and legislators today in an attempt to revive a contentious water rights bill. The group says without House Bill 1326, hundreds of Hawaiʻi’s farmers and ranchers would lose their access to water at the end of the year.

Donning a white cowboy hat and brown leather boots, Kauaʻi rancher Bobby Farias took a day off from herding cattle. He instead spent his morning meeting with the governor.

“I think it went well,” says Farias, “I think we explained to him the necessity of water for what we do.”

Water that Farias and dozens of Hawaiʻi farmers and ranchers could lose when permits run out in December. For Farias that means uncertainty.

“And uncertainty means no profitability. Weʻll have to eventually close the ranch without water.”

Farmers and ranchers from Kauaʻi, Maui, and the Big Island converged on the State Capitol to ask Ige and Hawaiʻi lawmakers for help. One solution is to revive House Bill 13-26, a measure extending water permits another seven years.

Opponents of the bill had concerns over water permits for large landowners like Alexander and Baldwin. But Big Island Senator Russell Ruderman says, even when legislators amended the bill to remove A&B, a vote on the measure was deferred by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  

“Considering where we’re at, it’s now an Executive Branch problem that the Governor’s office and DLNR have to resolve,” says Sen. Ruderman.

He met with the group’s Big Island contingent including Kaʻū rancher and Hawaiʻi Farm Bureau President Randy Cabral.

“Frustrating. It’s very frustrating for me,” says Cabral, “I certainly rather be out in the field working with the cows than being in this building.”

That’s a sentiment that was shared by the entire group as members knocked on every state senator’s door. At one point, retired Big Island farmer Richard Ha stormed off saying “You don’t even care!”

“I don’t think the Legislature cares about farmers,” says Ha, “We’re just flabbergasted. We cannot believe that it’s such a simple thing. Just go ahead and do it!”

But they’re not giving up. Hawaiʻi’s farmers and ranchers say they desperately need a solution.

“If we don’t get something passed, the Governor doesn’t do something administratively, then the possibility of us having no water at the end of the year, it’s there,” says Cabral.

The legislative session ends in less than three weeks.