Water flows back to Waimea

WAIMEA — After more than 100 years, water is being returned to the Waimea River.

Tuesday, the State Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management approved a mediated settlement reached in a complaint that “will immediately restore continuous flows in the Waimea River, as well as provide the opportunity for a renewable energy project, water for Hawaiian homesteading, and farming,” according to a release from the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.

It’s in regards to a complaint that was made by Po’ai Wai Ola/West Kauai Watershed in 2013 against the state-run Agribusiness Development Corporation and the Kekaha Agriculture Association, claiming too much water was being diverted from Waimea River.

“Today’s agreement ensures, that for the first time in over 100 years, life-giving water will once again flow continuously in Waimea River, from mauka (the mountains) to makai (the sea), which is vital for the health of the river and our community,” said Galen Kaohi, president of Po’ai Wai Ola.

Under the agreement, tens of millions of gallons of water will be restored to the river daily; water that is currently being diverted through a system of ditches built in the early 1900s.

“On behalf of the State of Hawaii Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC) and the Kekaha Agriculture Association (KAA), we are honored and proud to be part of a community that was able to resolve this critical issue through collaboration. This agreement establishes a foundation upon which farmers can build the future of agriculture on the West Side of Kauai,” said James Nakatami, Executive Director of the ADC.

The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative was also one of the parties in the settlement and is proposing a dual-purpose project, including both renewable energy and delivery of water, according to the DLNR release.

“We are pleased that this important step has been taken and we’ve come to agreement with the parties on the framework for the stewardship of land and water and responsible use of the resources in West Kauai,” said Dave Bissell, KIUC chief executive officer.

He continued: “Should the proposed KIUC renewable energy project come to fruition, KIUC could increase its renewable portfolio by ten percent or more with pumped storage hydro, while supporting (Department of Hawaiian Homelands) and others in expanding agricultural, residential and economic opportunities on the west side.”

Parties involved in the mediation said they were pleased at the short time frame — about a year — that it took to get the matter resolved.

“Historically, Hawai’i’s highly contentious water disputes have taken many years, if not decades to settle,” said DLNR chairwoman Suzanne Case. “This is an historic agreement. During this process, the commission sought not only to resolve the claims brought by the Pō‘ai Wai Ola hui, but to provide a mechanism for dealing with complex water issues holistically.”

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