Group seeks water resolution

LIHUE — Debra Lee-Jackson, a taro farmer from Kauai’s Puna District, said her nonprofit Hui Ho‘opulapula Na Wai o Puna has spent the last year working to understand water conditions and uses in the area. 

“What we have learned is shocking,” she told the Kauai County Council’s Economic Development Committee during a workshop Thursday.

As a result, the Hui, made up of a group of landowners, lessees, taro farmers, fishermen and native Hawaiians seeking to restore and preserve Puna’s watersheds, is asking the council to support, via a resolution, its petition aimed at having South Puna — known as the Hanamaulu sub-aquifer — designated as a Ground-Surface Water Management Area.

“This designation will provide our community, including the county, with the proper tools for prioritizing and balancing the use of our waters,” Lee-Jackson said.

The workshop was held so that the committee could become better informed about water issues in the area, as well as to engage the community in the broader issue. The event drew a large audience, nearly filling council chambers at the Historic County Building.

Adam Asquith, a biologist, taro farmer and extension specialist for the University of Hawaii’s Sea Grant program, presented his findings about what is happening to water in the area, calling it an “emotional and powerful” issue that must take into account local culture and traditions.

Asquith said the model sustainable yield for the sub-aquifer is 36 million gallons per day, which should be plenty considering current data shows much less is being used.

However, wells in the area continue to dry up.

“The obvious question then is how much water are we pumping from this sub-aquifer?” he said. 

With wells running dry, Asquith said the county has resorted to using streams for drinking water for new development, and that reducing stream flows effects the environment, cultural and social rights of others.

One of two things is going on, according to Asquith. Either there is a problem with groundwater in south Puna, which justifies the county’s extreme action of the use of stream water and the associated impacts, justifying the need for a management designation; or, there is not a problem and the county is taking water from streams for development without justification or assessment of its impact on other users and the environment.

Deputy County Attorney Andrea Suziki, speaking on behalf of the Department of Water, said she was disappointed in how the workshop played out, but was not prepared to officially respond.

“There are some inaccuracies in the presentation that the department would like the opportunity to address adequately,” she said.

Several people testified in support of designating the area as a Water Management Area, which would ultimately require water users to obtain permits and justify water use.

The Kauai County Council committee voted unanimously to adjourn Thursday’s meeting with the intention of revisiting the issue in the near future, once the DOW and other parties have time to draft a response.

Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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