Maui’s Water Wars

Oct 19, 2017

East Maui Irrigation Ditch
Credit Will Scullin / Flickr

Water can be a contentious subject, especially in East Maui, where streams have long been diverted for sugar. Now, a battle to restore these streams is coming to an end. We get more from contributing HPR reporter Colleen Uechi of The Maui News.

For 16 years, a group of East Maui residents has been fighting to restore more than two dozen streams--sources of water supporting the community's fishing and farming lifestyle.

Since the 1870s, a series of ditches diverted the streams to sugarcane fields across the island.

Now that sugar is gone, the state Commission on Water Resource Management is trying to decide how much water to restore to the streams.

Last week, attorneys delivered their final arguments to the commission.

A group of East Maui taro farmers, fishermen, hunters and traditional practitioners is at the heart of the debate.

For decades, they've been challenging Alexander & Baldwin, the parent company of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.

In 2001, the group filed a petition to amend the flow of 27 diverted streams.

In January 2016, hearings officer Lawrence Miike called for the restoration of 18 million gallons of water a day to 10 streams.

That same month, A&B announced it was closing its last sugar plantation.

Miike then increased his recommendation -- which would now restore nearly 27 million gallons a day to 12 streams.  

An attorney for the East Maui residents said they want to see more streams restored and questioned A&B's lack of a clear plan. 

But the attorney for A&B wants to give the recommended stream flows a chance. He said it's a catch-22: the company can't lay out a plan for diversified agriculture until it knows how much water it will get.

The commission said it would start weighing the arguments but did not have a timeline for a decision.