Hawai‘i’s Board of Land and Natural Resources approved a one-year permit to Alexander and Baldwin that will allow them to continue diverting water from streams in East Maui.
The diversion of streams in East Maui has been an ongoing battle for many residents and taro farmers. Zack Williams is a 30 year old taro farmer grew up near Makapipi stream, one of the first that was diverted by East Maui Irrigation.
“They’ve taken so much water that we haven’t had mauka to makai connectivity,” said Williams. “It has affected generations of kalo farmers, forcing them to move out of the valley and find other jobs.
Williams was one of nearly a dozen East Maui residents who traveled to Oahu to testify before the Board of Land and Natural Resources. The four approved holdover permits will allow Alexander and Baldwin to continue diverting as much as 80 million gallons of water each day. To put that into perspective, every day the entire island of O‘ahu uses double that amount.
“This has been generations of devastation on cultural practices, on families, on the local economies,” said Adriane Raff-Corwin, a coordinator with the Sierra Club’s Maui chapter.
“People have not been able to grow their own food and sustain themselves in ways that they have traditionally been doing,” she said. “People have had to move away from their families because of this. It has caused lots and lots of problems for the community.”
Many who opposed the permit pointed to A&B’s closure of HC&S, the last sugar plantation in Hawai‘i, arguing that the company no longer needed the water.
“Their immediate plans for the future are very vague and speculative,” said Camille Kalama, a staff attorney for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation. “So they’re asking for a blanket approval and they will have that ability to control 35,000 acres of land, as well as to divert the water that they choose to. And that to us is just a complete violation of the public trust.”
But Rick Volner, general manager of HC&S, says A&B does have a plan. The company hopes to use the water for diversified agriculture, and already has trial crops in the ground.
“Keeping that green open space in Central Maui are all in the public’s best interest,” said Volner. “We feel very strongly that we need to continue to have access to those waters so that we can develop those future opportunities. We look forward to being able to support and stay part of the Maui agricultural community.”
The approval of the holdover permits did come with conditions. The Land Board said Alexander and Baldwin must agree not to waste water, and will have to fully restore more than a dozen diverted streams in East Maui.