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Mahi Pono Wants to Divert Water from Wailuku Streams

Hokuao Pellegrino east maui streams
Hokuao Pellegrino
Waikapu Stream in the Wailuku District of Maui is one of the "Four Great Waters" or Na Wai 'Eha. The other three are Waihe'e and Wailuku Rivers and Wai'ehu Stream.

Mahi Pono, the Maui agricultural venture, is asking to divert stream water originally sought by the old Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company that it never got. The state Water Commission is hearing the case today – and it could delay dozens of requests from others who have been waiting for years for water from Wailuku streams.

Today, lawyers for Mahi Pono will make their case before the state Water Commission to take over a permit originally filed in 2009 by the former Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company. HC&S initially sought to divert more than 30 million gallons of water per day from Maui streams. That’s enough water to fill 45 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Credit Flickr - Averain

Mahi Pono officials just planted its first 40 acres of potatos last week in Central Maui. It plans to cultivate diversified crops on a total of 41,000 acres there. Company officials declined comment for this story.

But according to the Maui News, officials say they’ll need as much as 3.2 million gallons of water per day for their first crop. They haven’t disclosed how much water they’ll need for their entire agricultural operation.

The timing of Mahi Pono’s request worries Waikap? taro farmer H?k?ao Pellegrino. 

Hokuao Pellegrino stewards two acres of taro patches in Waikapu, Maui.

He’s one of more than 50 applicants who have filed permits for water flowing into Wailuku District. That includes Wai?ehu, Waihe?e, Waikap?, and Wailuku streams. Pellegrino and others already made their case for water use in a lengthy contested case hearing that is nearing completion.

“We do not want them to reopen this case,” says Pellegrino, “After all these years I’m not going to let this new company all of a sudden reopen the case for a few months and bring new evidence. No way. When this case is resolved, if you wanna apply for a water use permit after? Sure. But you’re gonna be at the back of the bus.”

Taro farmer Hokuao Pellegrino overlooking his lo'i kalo in Waikapu.

Pellegrino says Mahi Pono’s request could not only delay water for his two acre taro patch but could jeopardize requests by other smaller users.

The hearing before the state water commission begins at 5:00pm today at the University of Hawai?i Maui College’s Ka Lama Room #103. No public testimony will be accepted but the hearing is open to the public.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at
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