Stream diversion decision delayed

  • Bethany Freudenthal / The Garden Island

    As a rancher and on behalf of his employer Grove Farm, County Councilmember Arryl Kaneshiro addresses the State of Hawaii Commission on Water Resources Management Tuesday.

  • Bethany Freudenthal / The Garden Island

    KKCR radio host Kaiulani Mahuka told the State of Hawaii Commission on Water Resources Management Tuesday that because of water diversions cultivation of taro has been halted, not limited.

PUHI — A decision to amend the interim in-stream flow standard for the Waialeale and Waikoko Stream diversions was stalled Tuesday after multiple requests were made for a contested case during a contentious, eight-hour meeting of the State of Hawaii Commission on Water Resources Management.

The first request for a contested case came when attorney Laurel Loo, general counsel for the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, approached the commission, noting changes to the staff recommendation were being proposed without adequate research to support potential impacts.

“We don’t feel it’s prudent to act upon these amendments without sufficient data,” Loo said.

The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands was second in line to request a contested case, followed by Hui Hoopulapula Na Wai O Puna, during the meeting.

The streams were originally diverted in the 1880s as part of the sugarcane plantation irrigation systems in southeast Kauai. In 2015, the commission began to research the history of these diversions.

The study is still in process and will be finished by next year.

Puanani Rogers said she believes the state is violating both common laws and kingdom laws.

“There’s a total disconnect between our cultural values and how we feel about our water and how you folks think about water, as a commodity especially,” she said.

The commission has a duty to protect water for the people first before any corporation or commercial uses. Referencing the Constitution, water, she said, belongs to the public.

“Water is the lifeblood of our aina,” she said, asking them not to do anything further with this until there is fairness in it.

Speaking as a rancher and on behalf of his employer Grove Farm, County Councilmember Arryl Kaneshiro said water is important and he understands the current predicament.

“How do you balance or accommodate all of our different needs and uses for water, and how do you weigh one of those uses over the other?” he asked.

On one hand, there’s the desire to keep more water in the stream, but there’s also other uses including hydro, and a surface water treatment facility that provides drinking water for residents and agriculture, said Kaneshiro.

“We hear a lot about people wanting to protect and preserve agriculture, the state has a goal to double food production by 2020. You hear the terms ‘grow what we eat, buy local, eat local, support your local farms,’” he said.

As a fourth-generation farmer and employee of Grove Farm, Kaneshiro said water supports the agriculture industry and supports farming on state land and DHHL land in Wailua.

The water also benefits facilities such as the airport, the judiciary building, the adolescent healing and treatment center, Kauai Community College and tourism activities, he added.

“As I said earlier, you’re tasked with a difficult balancing act, so I just ask that you remember to please include agriculture and these other beneficiaries in your consideration of when you’re balancing your decisions,” he said.

John Wehrheim told the commission that harvesting local renewables and replacing food imports with Hawaiian-grown products plays a critical role in the health and security of the community.

“We can’t afford to let any economical hydropower potential go to waste, especially those like the Upper and Lower Waiahi that supply downstream irrigation and municipal water systems,” he said, speaking in support of the in-stream flow system that will allow hydroelectric power plants to continue operating at the highest possible output.

Megeso-William-Allen Dennis said the truth hurts and it heals. Despite abuses to Hawaiians, he said the state has been treated with aloha.

“Let’s look at friendship. What kind of friend and supposed ally takes away and diverts your water? What kind of friend steals your lands? What kind of friends commits genocide of a people and its culture?” he asked.

Kaiulani Mahuka said there are many errors in the U.S. Geological Survey report. The areas in question held the crown taro patches, she said.

“What actually prevents the development or more accurately puts the continuity of taro cultivation are the water diversions and the illegal theft of the crown lands,” she said.

Because there’s no water left from the diversions, taro cultivation has been halted, not limited, Mahuka said.

Instead, the land is being used to cultivate vacation rentals. The USGS survey is fraudulent because it’s based on the premise that there’s no taro being cultivated on top, but that’s simply not true, she said.

“You can’t have it both ways. If these are crown lands, then you’re not supposed to be touching any of it. The crown lands belong to the crown of Hawaii,” she said.

Mehana Blaich Vaughan, professor of coastal and watershed management at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said she was there to ask the commission to decide more than simply the amount of water in the stream and to return more than the staff recommends.

“I would advocate a minimum of 64 percent of base flow,” she said.

A cultural impact study required by the settlement of a contested-case hearing by the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs in 2006 hasn’t been completed, she said.

“Without this valuable information on historic, contemporary and potential future traditional and customary practices which are referred to only tangentially in the staff report, it is vital to restore more water to the streams,” she said.

As a buffer to ecosystem health, more data needs to be collected and more monitoring of the streams needs to occur, Blaich Vaughan said.

“A key component of adaptive management, as you emphasize in your report, is monitoring. There has been very little monitoring of flows or stream health,” she said.


Bethany Freudenthal, crime, courts and county reporter, can be reached at 652-7891 or

  1. harry oyama August 26, 2018 9:43 pm Reply

    This article fails to mention that John Wehrheim has a conflict of interest being involved in the Hydro electric power plants that utilizes a great majority of the water from these streams. In addition of being Joann Yukimura’s husband and the main reason you don’t hear her saying anything about this matter because it’ll affect voting from the Hawaiian community.

    Actually the prime agriculture lands are not located on the windward side, but on the leeward side based on the tonage per acreage from past sugar productions. The windward side is great for taro production.

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