Viewpoint: Proposed water usage laws, rates concern farmer

As local governments grapple with tight pocketbooks, people must be vigilant. Only decades ago, economic woes ushered in leaders who engineered economic duress from what originally seemed pragmatic and good actually tumbled democracies into chaos.

Recent proposed laws directed at water usage should cause concern because, on an island, water parity defines whether democracy wins or loses.

The Water Resource Committee’s special meeting (The Maui News, March 27) focused on the proposed water shortage bill, and testimony revealed that a multitude of people distrust the water department.

Water Supply Director David Taylor told the committee that he wishes to encourage conservation. As a teacher, I know that encouragement means to instill confidence. Contrarily, the legislation includes fines of $11 a gallon for families using more than 35,000 gallons a month during a period when the water director and mayor call a water shortage anywhere because of “mechanical malfunction, human error, period of drought, natural disaster or other such events.” The proposed law allows the mayor to call a shortage when he or she merely anticipates a shortage.

Farmers must often use more water one month than in a prior period, yet, according to Taylor, water meters can be confiscated on top of fines and court costs to retrieve the right to water. Many say that the law will not pass as written, but the fact that the executive branch put forward such legislation is a wake-up call that some people put efficiency before respect for people.

I operate Fragrant Orchids of Maui, a commercial nursery, and an aquaculture facility developed under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State of Hawaii in Haiku. Channeling rainwater from the greenhouse roof fills the 58,000-gallon, biologically filtered system. Hundreds of students have visited at no charge to learn low-maintenance water catchment and ecologically sound fish breeding and, in 2010, the state recognized the two-acre farm with a special award. But, at times, the ponds require county water.

As the first president of the Maui Farmers Union, I met many who studied water, and virtually all agree that, simply based on rising petroleum prices, food security will depend on locally produced food. Therefore, we have no alternative other than to protect farming, something the proposed bill does not do.

The water director’s reasoning for the new law is not for any reason other than to get a two-tier penalty scale into the budget. Contrarily, the proposed legislation focuses on actually convicting people. If farmers can’t use water when needed without penalties and fear, farming is certain to die, the future bleak.

The administration claims that the bill is meant to encourage conservation, but there is not a word aimed to increase water conservation or water-use education, nor any direction to grow healthy soil proved to save water as much as 30 percent. The mayor will be the sole arbitrator of who gets water and for what purposes, and this is wrong. In a democratic society it is the law that arbitrates, not government officials.

In economic terms, a national supermarket chain recently announced it will require all products have genetically modified organism labeling by 2018. Following the announcement, other food stores on Maui made similar pronouncements. More than 50 farms supply a hefty percentage of one Mauibased supermarket’s produce, 100 percent offered is organic and new producers are on line. More water, not less, will be required.

* Lloyd Fischel operates Fragrant Orchids of Maui in Haiku. He is a past president of the Maui Farmers Union, a past vice president of the Maui Flower Association and has served on the boards of directors for the Maui Orchid Society and Hawaii Orchid Growers Association.