On Tuesday, August 21 the Hawai‘i Commission on Water Resource Management held its meeting to consider a staff proposal to set interim instream flow standards that would restore streamflows to Wai‘ale‘ale and Waikoko Streams on the island of Kaua‘i. These streams flow directly from Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, a paramount sacred place revered for its life-giving wai, but have been diverted for a century to run two small plantation-era hydro plants currently operated by Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative.
The meeting room at Kaua‘i Community College was standing-room only during a workday. Many people objected that the proposed restoration of less than one-third of median flows, which would pave the way for KIUC to divert the rest of the water, did not do justice to these irreplaceable resources and called for a more pono solution.
Public testimony continued from morning to the late afternoon. Dozens and dozens of people testified in support of the streams, including kumu hula, mahiʻai, ʻolelo Hawaiʻi students, conservationists, and scientists. Shout out to Kip Goodwin who presented balanced, well-reasoned testimony on behalf of the Kauaʻi Group of the Sierra Club. Several Sierra Club members gave very strong, fact-based testimony in support of restoring this stream ecosystem, reviving traditional taro farming, and respecting this sacred water body.
There were also people opposed to restoring the streams at this hearing. This included employees of businesses that use the ditch water, like the water-tubing tours, and ranchers. There is likely also an interest in using the ditch water to support future inappropriate construction and urbanization in this part of Kauaʻi.
Then the Commissioners began its deliberations. Several of the Commissioners, including Chair Suzanne case, supported approving the staff proposal as-is (33% of the stream restored), other Commissioners recommended increasing the flow restoration, and others suggested the Commission defer its decision for more careful consideration of all the written and oral testimony presented that day.
After seeing that the Commissioners may be supporting a more balanced sharing of the water, KIUC requested a contested case hearing. This is an administrative trial, and requesting it pulled the plug on the Commission’s deliberations. In response to KIUC’s action, Earthjustice, on behalf of Kaua‘i community group Hui Ho‘opulapula Nā Wai o Puna, also invoked the right to a contested case hearing, as did the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.
The next steps will include the Water Commission deciding whether to hold a contested case hearing and who will be allowed to participate as parties. From there this case could go to mediation or a full-blown trial.
There will be more opportunities over the coming months to engage KIUC and agency decision-makers on this issue, including future KIUC board meetings and KIUC’s revocable permit renewal request from the Department of Land and Natural Resources in December. Please stay connected and share this information with your networks. We had a strong and effective presence at the meeting this week because of so many people like you.
We know that more sustainable and respectful methods for generating energy exist. We are hopeful that KIUC will recognize this and take the appropriate steps to modernize its system. The people of Kauaʻi and all those in Hawaiʻi must hold them accountable to this standard and help them evolve.
Mahalo again for your support. E Ola I Ka Wai, Water Is Life!