Took Five Hours For Officials To Make Water Decision In Maui
Firefighters in Lahaina, Hawaii may have been hindered in their efforts to save the area last week from a horrific wildfire due to a roadblock in receiving permission to use West Maui Stream water.
According to a letter sent by an executive with the West Maui Land Co. Inc., the company reached out to the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM) for approval to divert more water from streams in order to fill reservoirs for fire control.
Despite the immediate need to combat the initial fire that was contained at 9 a.m., the CWRM asked West Maui Land Co. to first inquire with the downstream user to ensure his loi and other uses would not be impacted. Communications were spotty and the company was unable to reach the one downstream user. It wasn't until 6:00 p.m. that the CWRM approved the request, but by then, it was too late - the wildfire had ravaged the Lahaina bypass, spreading quickly at a temperature so high that water was spewing out of pipes and taking with it the water supply for the fire hydrants.
Governor Josh Green declared an emergency proclamation to temporarily suspend the interim flow standards followed by a call to Attorney General Anne Lopez to conduct a "comprehensive review" of the decisions made before, during and after the fire.
Here's a clip of how M. Kaleo Manuel, the Obama leader who delayed water for five crucial hours.
Manuel claims "water requires true conversations about equity".
(And thank you to Vivek for sharing this story and fighting for the truth!)pic.twitter.com/4AzVZNwkHk
— Jeremy Kauffman 🦔 (@jeremykauffman) August 17, 2023
Unfortunately, this delay in approval is nothing new to the West Maui community, who have been fighting for decades against the diversion of water from downstream users, a practice that was started by the large plantations. Water rights expert Jonathan Scheuer, author of the 2022 book "Water and Power in West Maui" weighed in on the situation, saying, "The governor appears to be misinformed about the very long history of the state’s failure to fulfill its public trust duties in regard to water." He added, "I’ve never heard anyone suggest water not be available for firefighting purposes."
The sanctions imposed by the CWRM regarding stream flow should, if anything, be suspended during a literal state of emergency - and this may very well be the case for West Maui as the executive of West Maui Land Co. is requesting the immediate authorization to fill the reservoirs upon any fire report in the area. He is additionally suggesting that the CWRM suspend the interim in-stream flow standards and other regulations until the emergency period has ended in order to ensure water supply in the community.
While Governor Green attempts to make headway on this issue, many Hawaiians are still pushing for fairness with the allocation of water as well. Wayne Tanaka, director of the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i, cautioned against accusing water advoctes as the cause of this delay. According to him, "The real concern is diverters trying to exploit a horrible tragedy to gain control of water resources."
The devastating events of last week display the consequences of improper water protection and mismanagement. Hopefully, governments and organizations move forward with more responsive regulations and protocols to ensure water is available for firefighting purposes. In the wake of yet another massive disaster, time is of the essence.