Testifiers want more water for Kahoma Stream

State water commission weighs in-stream flow standards

About 70 people take part in a public fact-gathering meeting Tuesday night at Lahaina Intermediate School with the state Commission on Water Resource Management on establishing new in-stream flow standards for Kahoma Stream. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photos

LAHAINA — About two dozen Maui residents asked the state Commission on Water Resource Management during a public fact-gathering meeting Tuesday night to release more water to Kahoma Stream, which could be “one of the most thriving freshwater ecosystems” on the island.

The stream is the subject of a new In-stream Flow Standard Assessment Report compiled by the commission. A state hydrologist provided a brief presentation on the report to about 70 people during the meeting held at Lahaina Intermediate School.

The report will serve as the primary reference for subsequent amendments to the interim in-stream flow standards for surface water in Kahoma Stream.

A draft report is available online at dlnr.hawaii.gov/cwrm/surfacewater/ifs/kahoma_ifs/.

Many West Maui residents asked the commission to fully restore the stream and consider releasing 2 million gallons to Kanaha Stream. Testifiers pointed to increased food security, restoration of native practices and a revitalized marine ecosystem.

Community organizer Tiare Lawrence provides testimony to the state water commission members during Tuesday night’s meeting at Lahaina Intermediate School.

“Lahaina was never a place of scarcity,” Kanoelani Steward of Lahaina said during the meeting. “It was a thriving place of people of abundance, balance and productivity.”

Steward, a teacher at the middle school, told the commission that she helped complete the most recent biological survey for Ukumehame, Olowalu, Kauaula and Kahoma streams through a marine conservation fellowship program with The Nature Conservancy. The survey documented the abundance and size of native freshwater species in the four streams from August to November 2017.

Steward found an abundance of ‘o’opu nakea, ranging from less than 1 inch to up to 7 inches in Kahoma. She said the majority ranged from 1 to 3 inches, which is around the prime size the fish starts reproducing, and she discovered all five species of ‘o’opu in the stream.

“For a population to be thriving after not existing for how many years is pretty unreal,” she said. “The fact that we observed all five species is a huge indicator of the health and quality of this freshwater ecosystem. It also shows how resilient ‘o’opu are to be able to climb up that concrete channel.”

“Just imagine if you were to fully restore Kahoma stream and then add in the stream flow from Kanaha,” Steward continued. “Kahoma has the opportunity to be one of the most thriving freshwater ecosystems even with the concrete channel and increased development down below.”

Lahainaluna High School Principal Lynn Kaho‘ohalahala testifies before the state Commission on Water Resource Management during Tuesday night’s meeting at Lahaina Intermediate School.

Skippy Hau, an aquatic biologist with the state Division of Aquatic Resources, mentored Steward and said Wednesday that releasing more water to the stream would mean more fish, bigger fish and different species. He said he was not surprised by the thriving population due to last year’s rainy weather and release of water from connecting streams.

“They’re really abundant,” Hau said of the ‘o’opu nakea. “I think it’s comparable to (Wailuku River).”

Kahoma’s resurgence also has extended to food production. In July, community volunteers harvested the first patch of kalo in the valley in 130 years.

Lahainaluna graduate Tiare Lawrence spent the past two years organizing community workdays to clean up loi in the valley. She told the commission Tuesday that a decade ago Kahoma Stream was dead, but it has become a “beautiful template of resiliency.”

“We have worked so hard to get to where we are today,” Lawrence said. “I’m just going to put this out there, my request today is to allow Kahoma to be the only stream on the west side to be restored 100 percent.”

Lawrence said there are three functioning loi in full production in the valley and, by the end of the month, there will be two more. She said she hopes to have seven by the end of the year, and if negotiations with Kamehameha Schools go well, there could be 10 to 15 in full production by the end of next year.

Archie Kalepa, whose family owns the nearly 1-acre parcel where the kalo is planted, told the commission that without the stream the family would not be able to grow taro. He said he wants to look at maintaining the system long term and would like to see more streams reopened.

“Kahoma and Kanaha can be a role model for the future,” Kalepa said. “We’re looking for answers, and the answers are there and have been there for thousands of years.”

Kalepa said streams have been cut off statewide, which has had lasting effects on communities. He asked the state to consider stream health in future decisions and development, comparing it to the blood in a person’s veins.

“As long as that stream flows, then life thrives. A community can survive,” he said. “We have to get away from the idea of putting people first. We have to put our place first for us to live. Let’s take care of the place so the place can take care of the people.”

Lahainaluna High School also plans to reopen its loi kalo patches and expand its agriculture program with revitalized streams.

Principal Lynn Kaho’ohalahala told the commission that the school plans to expand food production and is repairing its irrigation system. She added that the school will be reforesting lands with native plants on campus, including areas burned by August’s fires as part of an agreement with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Kaho’ohalahala’s only concern was that her school’s water rights not be altered, reduced or taken away. The school has retained its water rights, originally given to it by the alii, for more than 184 years, she said.

“We’re connecting our youth to educational opportunities with future generations so they can continue the sustainability of Lahainaluna High School,” she said.

Many testifiers Tuesday longed to see Lahaina reclaim its identity as the “Venice of the Pacific” with the return of mauka-to-makai flows.

Ka’apuni Aiwohi, a member of Hui o Na Wai Eha, said his family in Waiehu has benefitted directly from the state’s release of water to Waikapu, Wailuku, Waiehu and Waihee Streams. He said he believes the release of water to Kahoma and Kanaha would serve as an educational resource for youth to “see what Lahaina used to be.”

“I really wish I could articulate enough how breathtaking Lahaina used to be,” Aiwohi said. “I wish I could illustrate all the bread fruit trees that would keep you in the shade no matter where you stepped foot in the entire region.”

The public may present oral or written testimony. Comments in writing will be accepted until Nov. 9 by email at dlnr.cwrm@hawaii.gov, by fax at (808) 587-0219 or by mail at Commission on Water Resource Management, State Department of Land and Natural Resources, P.O. Box 621, Honolulu 96809.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.