Mahalo to everyone who submitted testimony and those who traveled to Oʻahu for the Friday, December 14th BLNR hearing regarding the renewal of KIUC's temporary permit (revokable permit) for diversions at Waiʻaleʻale and Waikoko Streams on Kauaʻi.
At the hearing the Board of Land and Natural Resources once-again authorized Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) to divert most of Waiʻaleʻale and Waikoko Streams. This is the 15th year in a row the Land Board has renewed KIUC’s temporary permit without assessing the harm suffered downstream by the native resources and communities that rely on these culturally significant, life-giving waters.
While the Board’s decision does temporarily restore 30% of the stream and require some consultation with affected residents, advocates for the stream argued that this amount is not sufficient to address historic injustices.
“The Board should not just pick a random number,” said Haunani Rossi, a resident of Wailua on Kauaʻi. “Our stream waters are sacred and well-protected by the law. These waters should not be diverted except in very limited situations, and only where there is no harm downstream.”
The Land Board deliberated for over 4 hours on this agenda item. They heard testimony from people representing KIUC, Grove Farm, and a tubing operation in support, as well as more than a dozen people opposing the diversions and defending the immense cultural significance of these streams, the need for more water to support native system ecosystems and traditional farming practices.
Waiʻaleʻale is often cited as one of the wettest places on earth, yet upper regions of the stream have been de-watered for over a century first for sugar and now for approximately 1.5% of the islands hydroelectric power. The cost benefit analysis doesn’t pencil out when considering such a small amount of energy at the expense of consistent mauka to makai connectivity.
“The sacred waters of Waiʻaleʻale and the life-giving gourd they fill, are revered throughout this paeʻāina and are recounted in numerous moʻolelo. Our well known, hula admission chant, Kūnihi ka Mauna, which recounts part of Hiʻiaka and Peleʻs journey throughout our islands is a great example of this. Myself, my ʻohana, my kupuna and my keiki have had the honor of spending countless hours visiting these waters for generations…to play, offer hoʻokupu, mele, oli and gather mea kanu for lei and pohaku to carve into poi pounders and ulu maika. Setting a low balled, temporary water restoration at 30% is insufficient, unacceptable and will set a precedence for restoration,” said Malia Chun, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner from Kauaʻi.
Community members argue they are not opposed to hydroelectric power generation, they just believe there is more than enough water to share more equitably with all stream users.
“We applaud KIUC’s efforts to lead the state in renewable energy generation, but a small amount of hydroelectric energy at the expense of stream health is not a sustainable model for the future” said Marti Townsend, Director for the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi. “Given the abundance of water that flows through the Wailua watershed, it strikes me as a false choice between renewable energy and healthy stream ecosystems. It is offensive to hear KIUC say there is no cultural impacts caused by their diversions.”
For years, the Land Board has allowed major corporations to continue diverting stream water from public land for use in private profit-making after the close of sugar plantations. These decisions were made without an environmental impact statement, oversight of impacts downstream of the diversions, or basic justification for needing this water. As a result, native ecosystems and rural communities dependent on these streams continue to suffer with insufficient stream water.
The Land Board's controversial practice was made legal in 2016 with the passage of H.B. 2501, which is set to expire next year. Other major companies that divert water for profit, like Alexander & Baldwin, have already indicated that a new bill will be introduced next session to continue this practice of summarily renewing temporary permits that have allowed corporations to divert the public's water without proper justification or oversight.
The Land Board is responsible for ensuring use of public lands, including stream diversions, benefit the public trust. This means ensuring that diversions provide an actual benefit to the public and does not harm downstream users. More than a dozen people testified in opposition to KIUC’s permit citing harm to Native Hawaiian cultural practices and small farms.
“Decisions about streamflow standards being made now will pave the way for future land use decision-making,” said Sharon Goodwin. “Where we develop, and how much water is available for development will be informed by how much water we leave in our streams now. Our appointed and elected representatives have a responsibility under the state law to protect the public trust for future generations.”
Community advocates also stress the concern that the real beneficiary of the diverted water is Grove Farm, LLC. Grove Farm is not party to the temporary permit, but receives all of the diverted water and sells some of it for off-stream ag use, sports, and some potable water uses.
Although we did not get the level of streamflow restoration we were seeking at this BLNR hearing, we encourage you to stay in engaged as opportunities to weigh in arise in the upcoming legislative session. Stay tuned for updates and future calls to action!
Mahalo for your support. E Ola I Ka Wai, Water Is Life!