Water diversion bill now with Senate

LIHUE — Several grassroots groups on Kauai and throughout the state are targeting Kauai legislators, asking them to kill a bill that would extend temporary water diversion permits for large corporations.

The amended bill, HB 1326, has passed through House committees and is currently in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Water and Land.

It allows for a 10-year extension on temporary permits as entities work toward securing the required long-term water leases and permits. Some of those large corporate diverters include Alexander and Baldwin, Grove Farm, and the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

Opponents have dubbed the bill the “corporate water theft bill” and claim the measure would aid corporate diverters in skirting requirements for environmental assessment by kicking the can down the road. The can, in this instance, securing a long-term water lease or permit instead of moving forward with an extended revocable permit.

Councilmember Felicia Cowden wrote in testimony against the bill that it “unreasonably protracts the time period for water users to convert their month-to-month revocable permits (RP) to leases.”

“HB 1326 overrules significant community efforts on both the islands of Kauai and Maui to ensure future development is not as deeply controlled by large landowners,” Cowden wrote.

Anne Fredrick, with the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action on Kauai, testified that the bill perpetuates “hoarding, by allowing an additional seven years of temporary water permits for an unlimited amount of water, for unknown purposes, and without criteria for ensuring that stream ecosystems are protected.”

Meanwhile, Kauai resident and president of the East Kauai Water Users’ Cooperative, Jerry Ornellas, testified the cooperative is working to secure a long-term water lease for managing the reservoir and ditch system in the Kapaa and Kelepa area, something they’ve been doing for the past 17 years.

“Once the three years expires at the beginning of 2020, DLNR will no longer renew the system’s revocable permit, the coop will cease operation, the irrigation system, including the recently renovated Wailua and Upper Kapahi Reservoirs, will revert to DLNR control,” he said in testimony.

HB 1326 would allow for more time to find a “satisfactory long-term solution,” he said.

Kauai County managing director Michael Dahilig testified as well, pointing out the extension would help KIUC complete the steps they need to fulfill the requirements for a long-term lease — steps the cooperative has already been taking with the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

On the House Floor, Kauai’s representatives voted in favor of the bill — except for Rep. Nadine Nakamura, who recused herself because her husband’s law firm has been providing council to KIUC for the past seven years.

Rep. Dee Morikawa said Tuesday that though she voted for the bill, deadlines should be followed and diverters should be doing environmental assessments.

“Nothing is wrong with what’s going on with the way the water is being used now,” Morikawa said on Tuesday. “I want the extension, (but), we have to put a deadline on it to make sure they do something.”

Rep. James Tokioka pointed out renewable energy and KIUC’s hydroelectric project as reasons to support the measure. He confirmed his position on the bill Tuesday.

Now, opponents to the bill are reaching out to Senate President Ron Kouchi, asking him to vote against the bill and supporters are providing just as much testimony urging support. Kouchi could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

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Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or at jelse@thegardenisland.com

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