Kauai Springs back in business

  • Caleb Loehrer / The Garden Island file

    Jim Satterfield sits in the Kauai Springs headquarters and bottling plant.

LIHUE — A family-owned water-bottling company in Koloa may have won its 13-year legal battle with the county Planning Commission.

Earlier this month, Fifth Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe handed down a ruling that could force the county to issue zoning and land-use permits to Kauai Springs and its owners, Jim and Denise Satterfield, after fining and forcing the business to shut down in April.

Jim Satterfield said he and his family already have Kauai Springs back up and running and have lost very few clients, despite months of down time. Some of his customers, Satterfield said, even cried when he called to tell them he could once again make their water deliveries.

“The response has been overwhelming,” he said. “This is for the good of the people — bottom line.”

The Satterfields were granted zoning and building permits by the county in 2003, allowing them to bottle and distribute water flowing down a long-defunct irrigation pipeline that originates on Kahili Mountain and carries hundreds of thousands of gallons of drinking water a day through a small parcel of land in Koloa where the Satterfields tap into the pipe.

In her nine-page decision, issued Nov. 1, Watanabe said the amount of water Kauai Springs bottles and distributes does not affect the purity of the water, and if anything has a trivial impact on the maintenance of water in its natural state, an opinion that directly contradicts arguments presented by county attorneys and Native Hawaiian practitioners.

The permits would give Kauai Springs the legal right to bottle about 650 gallons of water a day, a fraction of a percent of the water line’s 270,000-gallon daily output.

But according to Hawaiian rights activists who testified against the Satterfields at public hearings in 2006 and submitted a petition with over a hundred signatures urging the Planning Commission to deny the permit requests, the proposed use of the water would be harmful to their traditional and customary water rights.

The commissioners agreed, and the Kauai Springs zoning and land-use permits remained invalid. The Satterfields contested the decision in court, where they received a favorable ruling from Watanabe in 2007. The county appealed that decision, sending the case to the state court of appeals. Five years later, the appellate court reversed Watanabe, and the Satterfield’s appealed to the Hawaii Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the Planning Commission with orders to clarify the 2006 decision.

The commission held further hearings, commissioned a study on the environmental impact of the water-bottling operation and, in 2018, once again denied the Kauai Springs permits. Again the Satterfields appealed, and over a decade later, the case was once again back before Watanabe.

Two weeks after an Oct. 15 hearing, Watanabe handed down a ruling with instructions that the Satterfields were to be issued their requested permits effective retroactively to the date of the Planning Commission’s decision in November 2018.

The stipulation requiring the permits to be backdated is significant because the Planning Department served the Satterfields with a cease-and-desist order earlier this year, followed by a $10,000 fine when they initially refused to shut down Kauai Springs.

The Satterfields are contesting the fine at a commission hearing next year, but Watanabe’s decision will probably render that decision moot, according to the Satterfield’s lawyer, Greg Meyers, who said the ruling should let his clients off the hook for the fine.

It has been nearly two weeks since Watanabe ordered the Planning Commission to issue the permits, but on Tuesday afternoon Jim Satterfield said he still hasn’t heard anything from county officials. It doesn’t appear to concern him one way or the other.

Watanabe ruled on a Friday afternoon, Satterfield said that after his lawyer sent him a copy the next morning, he spent the weekend preparing to get back to business as normal.

Satterfield and his wife called their clients and put the word out online. By Monday morning, he said they had over 100 orders and couldn’t leave the office without returning to find the light blinking on their answering machine.

“And Monday we had a full load,” Jim Satterfield said.

The Satterfields and their sons loaded the Kauai Springs van and set off to deliver water to locations all over the island.

When asked whether he is concerned about operating before official getting the permits, Satterfield said, “We’re trying to get our family back to work.”

Nov. 4 marked the first time Kauai Springs had been operational since the county fined him eight months ago. Satterfield said the layoff, coupled with the legal fees they accumulated in their years-long war of attrition with the county, nearly ruined him financially.

“I was on food stamps and unemployment,” he said. “What else could I do? I was stuck.”

Satterfield’s court battles may be far from over. County attorneys recently filed a motion that could pave the way for an appeal in the future, which could put the Kauai Springs case back in the hands of the court of appeals, according to Meyers. Still, Satterfield said his family and business aren’t giving up.

“It’s not over yet, obviously,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere. And the spring isn’t, either.”


Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.

  1. I like make money November 14, 2019 7:27 am Reply

    So if I’m next door neighbor to Satterfield can I be permitted to sell 650 gallons of water a day too? while your at it there is at least a thousand more people connected to that pipeline who would like to get rich off of the public resources.

  2. harry oyama November 14, 2019 8:35 am Reply

    If anything else, at the least, native Hawaiians should be getting some compensation. The Satterfields have not invested any time, money or muscle in developing this water source which originates all the way up Kahili mountain that has both historical and royal Hawaiian decree, being approved by Kauai’s Ali’i.

    It is not right for some white people (who benefited by their white ancestors who over threw the Hawaiian Nation) to just come along and tap into this source for the sole purpose of making money, while native Hawaiians are dying waiting for some measy parcel of land to live on.

    Again its the Hawaiians getting the shaft of “Ala ala”.

    Besides, this water source may also have taken the life of some local who was sent up that mountain as a guide for the sole development of its water source. He was killed while stepping on some live artillery round fired by the US Army for training. What has this family recieved, NOTHING. So the Scatterfields should take such historical records in mind instead of just making $$$$Profits.

  3. Kimo November 14, 2019 12:05 pm Reply

    Really people? Please! Lets run some numbers, OK? 560/270,000 = 0.0024 …. That is 0.24% of the total output of the water source. The system, more than likely looses 10 times that amount due to seepage. All these gripes are petty BS. Get over yourselves.

    If you don’t like the couple providing water to people living on the island because they are white, doesn’t that make you a racist according to the woke idiots of the world? I don’t see anyone else stepping up to the plate and performing this service. Would you feel better if a couple with a bit of Hawaiian in their heritage opened up competition? Nothing wrong with that. It’s called entrepreneurism.

    By the way, I am not a customer, as I believe we have some of the best water on the planet coming down from Mt. Waialeale flowing to Omao right to the faucet!!!!! I haven’t used bottled water in years. NO PLASTIC!

  4. rk669 November 14, 2019 1:57 pm Reply

    Sue the County of Kauai! Put an End to the GOB’s Stranglehold on Kauai,Period! SHAME!

  5. Pete Antonson November 14, 2019 4:07 pm Reply

    This is the problem with these groups that tilt at windmills like thos one or the telescope. Their credibility suffers when the case can’t withstand practical analysis. You have to also believe in fairies and stuff to support them or be the kind of moron that supports donald trump.

  6. Matthew November 14, 2019 5:13 pm Reply

    I can’t believe the county of Kauai continues to waste money and harass the Satterfelds. It is completely ridiculous! It would be a lot better if they put those resources back into fixing our roads!

  7. Kimo November 14, 2019 7:02 pm Reply

    that’s 650/270000, not 560/270000 … my bad

  8. manongindashadow0711 November 15, 2019 6:44 pm Reply

    Awe! poor babies had to live on food stamps for eight months. They are all able body people who could have find work elsewhere.
    There are a lot of families with children that need food stamps.
    What did Watanabe get from the Satterfield?

  9. Harmonyforkauai November 17, 2019 10:50 pm Reply

    There is a lot of misinformation & prejudice regarding Kauai Springs. This family is simply providing the service of delivering fresh spring water to those who are not able to hike themselves to places like Makalea to get it themselves. They deliver to the elderly, local Hawaiian families, people with health conditions, and other cultures on Hawaii equally. They are simply charging a very small fee considering, to bottle the water, and deliver it all over the island. It is being dumped by thousands of gallons into the ocean every day. Let it go to good use. Jim came up with the idea after hurricane iniki – so that people could be self sustainable, and have stored water if they needed in case of disaster. Their 3 and 5 gallon drums are completely reusable, they collect, clean, and redeliver. I have been a faithful customer, and during their long break, put a filter on my own tap that flows from Makalea. I do not wish to have the counties chlorinated water, I prefer filtered springwater as God intended. Please put your prejudices aside and take a look at what is best for the island. We deserve to have our fresh spring water if we would like it, instead of buying shipped bottles of fancy spring waters that big companies are profiting from right and left at places like Costco and Safeway. Kauai can only be an empowered island with harmony and peace if people choose to put aside their own defenses and prejudices and work together. Last year I was traveling a Third World country, And became very ill from the unclean water in one rural area. All I could think of was coming back home and getting the delivery of our islands fresh spring water to me to improve my health. Let this family earn an honest living with providing their vital spring water delivery service. They are the only family business on the island that is providing such a service. Their only intention is health and spreading our God given water. Thank you. Peace to all.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.