In-stream flow standards meeting alleviates fears about water loss
LAHAINA — An informational meeting Wednesday night helped quell some fears from West Maui residents and farmers worried about losing water to new in-stream flow standards set earlier this year for four West Maui streams.
Water company officials, however, still question the data used to create the standards and wonder whether they will have enough water to operate.
More than 200 residents showed up for the meeting called by West and South Maui state Sen. Roz Baker and West Maui state Rep. Angus McKelvey at the Lahaina Intermediate School cafeteria. State Department of Land and Natural Resources officials provided a presentation and answered questions on the selection and implementation process for the interim flow levels.
“I think people have a better appreciation that their water is not going to be turned off or they’re not going to be able to use it for agriculture and other uses,” Baker said after the meeting. “There’s plenty of water, and I really think this was a good opportunity for people to get some correct information.
“Hopefully, they can understand that this is a work in progress, and that it’s going to be re-evaluated.”
The Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management voted in March to set the new standards for Ukumehame, Olowalu, Kauaula and Launiupoko streams after decades of plantation diversions. The amount of water set to be released per day for the Ukumehame, Olowalu and Kauaula streams was 2.9 million, 2.33 million and 3.36 million gallons, respectively. Launiupoko Stream flow was proposed to stay the same because it rarely meets the ocean.
The commission decided to review the stream levels after receiving multiple complaints from residents who said the diversions were restricting traditional practices. The decision, though, concerned residents who bought agricultural property in West Maui and water companies contracted through the Public Utilities Commission.
“We need to be sure we have the facts right,” said Peter Martin, a managing partner of Makila Land Co., which bought lands mauka of diversions on the Launiupoko and Kauaula streams. “The numbers being used I don’t believe are accurate.”
Water company officials have argued that stream flows were actually lower than reported by commission staff, and they would be forced to stop certain operations. Martin also did not agree with the inclusion of 2 million gallons from a tunnel built by Pioneer Mill into the in-stream flow standard.
“I think Pioneer added that to the stream and that should not be considered water in the stream,” he said. “The companies lose money already and pay a fortune in attorney fees. We’re just going to do the best that we can.”
The standard was based on a seven-year study by the U.S. Geological Survey and commission staff with input from cultural practitioners.
DLNR hydrologist Ayron Strauch said he “can’t pick and choose the data” because the only numbers available were from USGS. The department plans to evaluate the streams over the next three years and install real-time gauges for better monitoring.
“The whole point in protecting an ecosystem is to see it improve, so we want to resurvey these streams to see what these restorations have done,” Strauch said. “We also want more monitoring data and to determine the accuracy of the USGS data and re-evaluate the (in-stream flow standard).”
In terms of implementing the new standards at each stream, the department will take no action at Ukumehame because it has no diverter, and it will have to wait at Launiupoko until trial flow releases are conducted. Olowalu also is in compliance, but will need slight modifications to the lower diversion intake gate to limit excess diverted water.
In Kauaula, the department is working with Launiupoko Irrigation to return stream flow past its diversion, Strauch said. The idea is to monitor the hydrology below the diversion and siphon, and determine how much needs to be released over time, he said.
One million gallons per day was returned to Kauaula Stream starting in April with another million to be returned on Sept. 24. DLNR staff members plan to conduct follow-up measurements each month this year, while Launiupoko Irrigation will provide a report to the commission in September.
The report will include data for the monthly energy production by Makila Hydro and a status update on diversion monitoring and distributions for Kauaula and Launiupoko streams.
Strauch clarified several times to residents Wednesday night that flow standards only protect in-stream uses and do not scrutinize off-stream uses outside of surface water. He said there should not be any off-stream impacts because the full standards have not been implemented yet.
The full in-stream flow standards are expected to be implemented by the end of the year, possibly early next year, Strauch said.
DLNR Deputy Director Jeff Pearson said the commission is being more “proactive” in water issues, rather than waiting for a petition or complaint. The March decision was the first staff-initiated flow standard since 1988.
“I want to stress and it was discussed earlier that we didn’t take this 3.36 (million gallons) and whack it into a stream,” DLNR Deputy Director Jeff Pearson told the crowd. “We’re working together with Launiupoko Irrigation Co. because that’s what it takes. We’re doing our best, and they’re doing their best to keep the water in the streams.
“It’s not going to be easy, but hopefully we can all work together to find a balance.”
Pearson said the commission still needs to develop a community plan on enforcement besides continuous monitoring of the streams. He did not believe there was “any real discussion” on enforcement during the recent vote and when the Hawaii Water Code was passed in 1987.
“We have a ways to go to do good enforcement of the IFS,” he said.
McKelvey thanked the commission and department for “putting a lot of people at ease,” while working with all the stakeholders. He said the “big conversation now” is evaluating off-stream uses and to ensure landscaping is pushed toward recycled wastewater.
“You have people who are landscaping and using the same water source as farmers, the Native Hawaiian community and everyone else, so there’s a lot of pressure on our water system,” he said. “The bigger conversation going forward will be all the different water uses and the future availability.”
Kauaula Valley resident Ke’eaumoku Kapu said the in-stream flow standards ruling will protect kuleana landowners and ensure their survival.
“The state is just doing what they are responsible to do, and finally, they’re doing it,” Kapu said.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.