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Water returned to some Kauaula Valley families, farms

Residents filed lawsuit; company blames lack of rain, stream flow standards

Water from the Kauaula Hydro Plant flows into a ditch servicing Kamehameha Schools land above Lahaina and Kauaula Valley residents Thursday as Kauaula Valley resident Ke‘eaumoku Kapu visits the site near his family’s home. Pressure issues resulting from the water being shut off earlier this month were keeping the water from reaching homes and farmland above the plant. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Water was returned Wednesday to a majority of Kauaula Valley kuleana families and farmers after a recent court order and a state water commission decision directing Launiupoko Irrigation Co. to restore water delivery services to the area.

Lance Collins, a lawyer for one of the kuleana families, said in 2nd Circuit Court on Thursday that the water has been “somewhat restored” to the kuleana families and Kamehameha Schools tenant farmers in the West Maui valley.

Only the Kapu family, whose households and taro patches are at a different elevation from the others, did not have water restored, Collins said.

On Thursday, Kapu told The Maui News that his taro patches have had their water shut off since April 13, putting them at risk of either drying out or overheating and having rot set in.

“Hopefully they put water back inside and we don’t lose our crop,” Kapu said.

Kauaula Valley resident Ke‘eaumoku Kapu inspects his taro patches Thursday afternoon. He said the patches have had their water shut off since April 13, putting them at risk of either drying out or overheating and having rot set in. “Hopefully they put water back inside and we don’t lose our crop,” Kapu said. He said concerns over water availability starting in 2018 forced him to scale back his plantings. “This all used to be taro,” he said. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The company was committed to resolving the issues on Thursday or today at the latest, Collins later said outside of court.

Collins and other attorneys for the kuleana families, along with Launiupoko Irrigation Co., were back in court Thursday for a hearing, after Judge Kirstin Hamman on Tuesday issued a 10-day order for the company to restore water delivery services to the families.

The families recently brought a lawsuit against Launiupoko Irrigation Co. after water delivery was “cut off” last week “without notice or explanation,” Collins said in a news release on Tuesday.

Launiupoko Irrigation Co. is obligated to provide continuous water delivery to kuleana families, Collins said, citing a legal settlement with Kauaula Valley kuleana families in 2003, over a Land Use Commission proceeding, in which West Maui Land and its subsidiaries, which includes Launiupoko Irrigation, promised to upgrade the water system and provide continuous delivery of water.

In an email to The Maui News on Thursday, Launiupoko Irrigation Co. said that the water “was never cut off” and that flows have been diminished due to the interim in-stream flow standards imposed on Kauaula Stream and the lack of rain.

Kauaula Valley residents Ke‘eaumoku Kapu (from right), Kaulana Kapu and Uilani Kapu inspect water flowing into a ditch at the Kauaula Hydro Plant Thursday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The company also pointed to the decision Tuesday by the state Commission on Water Resource Management that gave Launiupoko Irrigation Co. a 90-day temporary stay of the interim in-stream flow standards to allow an additional 300,000 gallons per day to be diverted from the stream to the kuleana landowners and Kamehameha School tenant farmers.

“The Commission’s decision on Tuesday to partially suspend the IIFS (interim in-stream flow standards) on Kauaula Stream will make water available to two groups of end users,” the company said Thursday. “We hope that the Commission will consider adjusting the IIFS so that water is available to all users.”

Outside of court, Collins said their position is that the company could deliver water to the families and farmers regardless of the interim in-stream flow standards.

He cited state water commission data in a letter to the state Public Utilities Commission in which Launiupoko Irrigation was, at one point, diverting enough water to meet the flow standards and its own needs and had enough water to divert to kuleana families and tenant farmers, all without violating the flow standards.

Water commission staff were notified when residents and farmers went without water.

On April 14, a Maui County Council member forwarded the water commission a letter from The Salvation Army Lahaina Lighthouse Corps. The letter said that a mother of five children, all under the age of eight, told Salvation Army officials she would no longer have water at her Kauaula Valley home, according to water commission documents. The woman was figuring out what to do and was applying for entry into a homeless shelter.

According to water commission documents, Gunars Valkirs, who is the founder and CEO of Maui Ku’ia Estate Chocolate and farms in the area, also told commission staff on April 13 that there was no water in the diversion and all water had been directed into the stream.

“In one week I will lose the rest of this year’s harvest of cacao,” Valkirs told water commission staff. “In 2-3 weeks the trees will be irreparably damaged and the farm will be lost.”

Because water was being received by most of the families and farms Thursday, the families’ motion for preliminary injunction against Launiupoko Irrigation Co. that was set for Thursday was pushed to July 21.

Hamman acknowledged that her 10-day order issued Tuesday for Launiupoko Irrigation Co. to deliver water is still in effect. She scheduled a status conference on the matter for April 29.

Issues over Launiupoko Irrigation Co. not meeting interim in-stream flow standards are not new, and even the company acknowledges that it is “not realistic” to meet the flow standards.

Launiupoko Irrigation Co. said in a statement Thursday that it has told the water commission that “the IIFS is not realistic given the actual water flow and demands on the system.”

The company cited provisional U.S. Geological Survey stream flow numbers which show that “over about 500 days, if the IIFS was implemented 100 percent of the time, no LIC users would receive water on approximately 40 percent of the days.”

And with the water commission directing the company to implement the flow standards 100 percent of the time on March 31, this resulted in days where little to no water was available for any user, the company said.

On March 31, the commission had issued a notice of alleged violation to Launiupoko Irrigation Co. that it continued to be in violation of two interim in-stream flow standards on Kauaula Stream, according to water commission documents.

The commission cited data from June 12, 2020 to March 23, regarding the violations.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com. Staff Writer Matthew Thayer contributed to this story.

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