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Water use and development plan for Maui advances

COUNCIL'S 3 MINUTES

The Agriculture and Public Trust Committee has held 14 meetings on the Maui Water Use and Development Plan over the past year as we seek to set a course to provide adequate water for the next 30 years while protecting cultural and natural resources.

Public testimony and community meetings have played a critical role in updating the plan to more accurately reflect community needs. Guidance from ‘Aha Moku o Maui Councils has helped us better integrate Native Hawaiian water-resource management history, strategies and generational knowledge into the plan.

Hawaiian culture is rich with knowledge and experience in managing water and honoring its practical and spiritual aspects. Hawaiian Kingdom laws, or kanawai, provide the basis for our regulatory system, including the codification of kuleana and cultural-practice rights.

Kanaka maoli water-resource management minimizes waste and prioritizes equity. As a result of ‘Aha Moku input, strategies have been incorporated to limit extravagant hotel water use and penalize wasteful behaviors, including adopting policies directing the council to establish a tiered structure for water rates and a separate hotel category.

A policy to establish a local Native Hawaiian Advisory Board is included in the latest draft, as are environmental protection strategies for dryland native forests, wetland areas, aquifer recharge areas and groundwater.

Other policies call for revising the County Code to promote water catchment, greywater use and efficient landscaping and establish water conservation requirements for golf courses, resorts and public facilities.

The plan builds upon the state Commission on Water Resource Management’s landmark Na Wai ‘Eha decision and order in June, which restored streamflow to the “four great waters” of Central Maui. As Commissioner Kamanamaikalani Beamer stated, the water commission’s action affirmed that “kalo cultivation is a traditional and customary right in this region” and represented “a key shift from plantation water management to balanced water management.”

Native Hawaiian culture recognizes localized systems where water retention is critical to ecosystem health and water growth for use by future generations. This holistic system of water management requires that water stays in each ‘ahupua’a and relies upon mauka-to-makai stream connectivity.

Some observers view the entire island as one ecosystem and support resource sharing from water-rich areas, such as Ha’iku, with water-poor areas. Testimony heard at Ha’iku Community Association and ‘Aha Moku meetings expressed concerns that this strategy is difficult to support by residents whose own community needs haven’t been met.

This year, mandated water restrictions were implemented with substantial fines in one area of the county, while dry areas enjoyed the spoils of water overuse. We’ve also experienced streams running dry in wet areas. These kinds of imbalances must be addressed.

Over 100 years of diversions have depleted stream water and prevented groundwater recharge. These conditions not only prevent local residents from getting the water they need to live and farm, but they also hinder Native Hawaiians from establishing cultural rights to water.

To maintain water projections required by the plan, committee members voted to retain the Ha’iku well development strategy to provide for future needs. Ha’iku residents and kanaka maoli have shared concerns regarding the soundness and equity of this policy, referencing the 2003 court-mandated consent decree that requires geohydrology and groundwater quality analyses, streamflow studies and restoration plans and rigorous cost-benefit studies prior to decision-making.

When the committee reaches consensus on the plan, the council will consider approving it by ordinance. With council approval, the plan will move to the water commission for review and final approval as part of the state Water Plan.

Moving forward, the council will monitor implementation of the plan and the Ha’iku well strategy, while also pursuing broader land use policies that govern water needs.

In the new year, the committee will also take up issues such as:

• Policies for the new County Department of Agriculture, which begins operations July 1.

• The county’s possible purchase of the Wailuku Water Co. system.

• The county’s role in the East Maui water lease process and ensuring domestic and agricultural needs continue to be met.

• Wellhead protection policies that ensure groundwater health.

• Protection of cultural resources through cultural overlay districts and strict requirements for blasting permits.

Mahalo to everyone who has contributed through this process.

* Shane M. Sinenci is chair of the council’s Agricultural and Public Trust Committee. He holds the council seat for the East Maui residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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