Plantation closure effects on stream flow discussed at water commission

WAILUKU — Proceedings before the state water commission involving stream flow standards and diversions in East Maui and Central Maui, which will be impacted by the closure of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., are expected to commence at the end of this year and into early 2017.

Maui County Deputy Corporation Counsel Caleb Rowe on Wednesday gave members of the council’s Water Resources Committee an update on the cases that involve sources that the county taps for residential water customers.

With the closure of HC&S, community groups have argued that the plantation may not need as much water as it currently receives from Na Wai Eha, or the “Four Great Waters,” — Wailuku River, Waihee River, Waiehu Stream and Waikapu Stream.

The state Commission on Water Resource Management, which is hearing the ongoing Na Wai Eha case, is revisiting flow standards for the four streams because of HC&S’ closure at the end of the year. Rowe said that the contested case hearing on revisited interim instream flow standards is set to begin toward the end of this year.

Maui County is involved in the case because it draws up to 3.2 million gallons a day from the Wailuku River.

The commission also is considering the impact of the plantation’s closure on flow standards for 27 East Maui streams. East Maui Irrigation Co., a sister company of  HC&S, diverts water from a series of East Maui rivers on state land leased by EMI and delivers the water to HC&S and Maui County.

A hearings officer had made his recommendations on instream flow standards in January but before the HC&S closure was announced. The proceeding was reopened to consider the impact of the sugar plantation closure.

Rowe told the committee that the county will be pursuing additional water to accommodate future growth, as well as to meet some of the demands of the Upcountry water meter wait list.

“By the county’s estimation, HC&S’ decreased needs resulting from cessation of their sugar operation will easily accommodate these needs, while still allowing significant additional restoration to the subject streams,” Rowe said in a memo to the committee

Rowe said the reopened contested case is scheduled to begin Jan. 9.

HC&S said it will turn to diversified agriculture for its 36,000 acres that are currently being used to cultivate sugar. Taro farmers and community groups have long sought more water from the plantation’s diversions, which they say have dried up their streams.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.