Water Commission Restores East Maui Streams

The Water Commission announced new in-stream flow standards for the streams of East Maui. The decision fully restores the streams that support families and taro farms, while still allowing for most of the requested off-stream agricultural water use.

“This decision looks good on paper, but enforcement will make all the difference in the quality of our lives and health of the streams,” said Lucienne de Naie, a Sierra Club member and resident of East Maui who relies on streamflow for basic necessities. “The goals in this decision are impressive, the trick will be getting them fully implemented.”

Alexander & Baldwin requested 89 million gallons of water per day (mgd) for agricultural use from 25 streams spanning 60,000 acres of land in East Maui. The Water Commission granted the most of A&B’s request, but required some of the water be pulled from groundwater sources. The Commission’s decision mandates the full restoration of 10 streams, and another 7 streams restored to at least 90% flow at all times.  

“For many decades, the families of the East Maui have fought for the restoration of their water, their taro patches, their way of life, and today, it appears their pleas were heard,” said Marti Townsend, Director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi. “Now, it is crucial for the Department of Land and Natural Resources to enforce these new standards — A&B’s actual water use must be measured, fair market rents collected, and violations swiftly prosecuted.”

For more than 100 years, A&B diverted these streams for profit in the form of sugar plantations. For decades, many of the streams that once fed vibrant communities of taro farmers were drained.  Since 2001, Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation has represented Native Hawaiian families that rely on taro farming and traditional gathering practices to have the streams restored.

“The success of this decision depends on the Water Commission and the communities affected having the resources they need to make this historic decision work for all parties,” de Naie added.

You can read the court’s decision here.