Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Maui Farmer's Union - Na Wai Eha Water Controversy

At the 2/28/12 meeting of the Maui Farmer's Union, Isaac Moriwake of Earthjustice talked about water rights and the current controversy of public trust water in Hawaii: Na Wai Eha ("The Four Great Waters")

The talk went on for 25 minutes - it was worth watching, but to make this information a bit more accessible to people who may not have the 25 minutes to spare, here is a very rough (and incomplete) transcription of the talk including a few of my comments. The video has the visuals and will put the words below in a better context:

Issac Moriwake of Earthjustice on "Protecting the public trust doctrine and water law in Hawaii." 

Isaac is talking: 

Streams and water systems depend on mauka to makai (Hawaiian for mountain to ocean) flow, an ecosystem and cultural system based on the ahupua’a (pie shaped wedge of land from mountain top to shore), centered on the mauka to makai concept. Farmers planted taro in this system, a symbiotic wetland unit. They took water from the streams but always put it back. Wai means water, wai wai means well, kana wai literally means the law, wai is life…

Waiahole Ditch landmark case.

Historically, water was a public resource, even under the kings.

Water code in the 1980s:
Waiahole ditch was a national precedent on water resources in general, a landmark case for water as a public trust.

Oahu Sugar had closed. The big landowner wanted to keep the water for urban development and temporary agriculture. Small farmers took this to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Protected trust purposes:
Trust to safeguard resources
Keep the resource in its natural state – based on science, aesthetics, Hawaiian rights
The Court says we will not think of streams flowing as waste.
Take action to protect the environment.

Default in favor of trust – the burden of those taking resource for their private profit need to justify. It doesn’t mean you are banning water use for private purpose. Need to show need, lack of alternatives, prove you need to drain streams.

It doesn’t mean just to support the environment, or being against farms (transcriber's note: really big plantations). It is a traditional Hawaiian idea of kuleana, upholding rights and local agriculture. It’s the responsibility of corporations to justify themselves.

Pictures showing people together as a community, restoring old waterways.

Now in Maui. Na Wai Eha (The Four Great Waters): a legendary place.
This was once the largest continuous area of taro cultivation in ALL of Hawaii, even more than Hanalei. There are heiau (Hawaiian temples) all over the place. It was the birthplace of … a spiritual place. Waihee River is the largest river on Maui, one of the top 5 in the state. A diversion of Wailuku Water Co and HC & S and you can see the dry stream bed.

Iao stream now known as Wailuku river. A grate goes across the stream. Cracks and seepage were cemented up. People in this region want to farm and want rights to water.

Again, who are we dealing with? Wailuku Sugar Plantation had 5000 acres and HC & S. They retained a bid system and reformed as a bid system as a water company selling water to the same land. The mustard color being farmed is under short term lease. Wailuku Water Company makes no bones about it. Only a 5th of the land was used (for agriculture). 30 million gallons of water available a day.

In comparison, the Ia'o aquifer can provide to Central Maui 20 million gallons a day. Maybe 17 in total.

Wailuku Water Company says they have 27.5 million gallons available to new customers and the rest is slated to HC&S. They are parking the water. Only a fraction of land is now cultivated w/ this water. Wailuku Sugar Plantation is no more. So the question is, where is the water? We learned we had to pry info from folks, their strategy is to maintain control. They lose more than 25% of the water they divert. Over irrigate by 20-50%. Some fields are getting more than 3x the water that the crop needs, it’s sandy soil so it sucks water up. They are avoiding using the historical source of water for fields: wells. Instead use the power they internally generate by burning the gas to sell to MECO for windfall profits. What if you had to pay for water and show all this wasted water to stockholders!?  This is what happens when water is cheap or free. A mindset when water is something you can just treat like your own ….

While the case was pending, the Wailuku Water company sent out water cannons in driest part of island, Maalaea, even in the middle of the day, literally shot 24/7 into the air over dry pasture slated for development. Even in the middle of day, in the heat of summer. While streams go dry, these water cannons go full blast. This is what happens when water is cheap or free. This is land banking, right? The same acreage HC&S claims they need or will go out of business, they have slated for development. Over 1000 acres are in this portion of plantation alone. It’s also about  water banking. They don’t care if they lose the water because at the same time they are planning the Waialae water treatment plant that will take 9 million gallons a day (the same water that they claim is essential to the plantation) so they can treat it and sell it to the public. So they are getting into the water business as well.

Who’s the Hui? Uncle John here and Rosemary.
Rosemary and Uncle Dewey in the valley want to get their water back. They are farmers trying to farm, continue their culture. In the words of former plantation worker now farmer and kuleana land owner Alfred Santiago. Tourists look at streams, but in the end of the day, it’s identity and what makes us feel more whole.

At stake, culture, clash of two paradigms.
Is water public trust or private property?

Are streams for future generations or water for sale? Is this agriculture (land development and housing)?

In April 2009, the hearing officer proposed to restore half of the water, A&B HC&S went on warpath, said they would close the plantation and lay off 800 people to the commission’s face, and the commission did an about face to restore even less water than the plantation had advocated. So an appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court is pending. It’s the Waiahole case all over again. Same [political] maneuvers as in the other case.

Why are we here again? Recent attacks by Hawaii Farm Bureau on the water law paradigm and framework, going on every year since the Waiahole decision. (Transcriber's note: The Hawaii Farm Bureau doesn’t really represent farmers, but commercial interests. Many small farmers have created their own organization to represent them: Hawaii Farmers Union United.) Hawaii Farm Bureau’s main attempt to make agriculture on important agriculture lands (means only HC &S) a protected public trust purpose, this sounds reasonable right?. Public trust is supposed to be rights and then kuleana (responsibility of the diverters), you understand this is directly contrary to the law.

The Waiahole case means that “public trust” is not understood to safeguard rights of private use for commercial gain.

It’s not to deprive agriculture of water but there must be kuleana, rights.

What Hawaii Farm Bureau and HC& S are saying:
“Ag needs water” Agreed.
We’re talking about responsible water use

What they really mean is: they want cheap and free water for private companies. It’s really corporate welfare.  It’s about cheap and free stream water for private companies. 
One plantation feels it’s under attack and wants to use the law for its own benefit

FYI, this is the kind of stuff we
We hear year after year, written into one of the farm bureau (not real farmers) drafts:
“The Supreme Court’s rulings have the effect of lowering self-sufficiency and sustainability goals by depriving agriculture of adequate water.” This is offensive to me.
No one is depriving any adequate water to farmers

It ain’t self sufficient or sustainable if you’re destroying streams while doing it!

Hawaii Farm Bureau (Boo! Not real farmers)
“We want equal rank, balance.”
Isaac’s retort:  It’s not balance, if you’re taking it all! It’s not about equal rank, it’s about putting thumbs on scale for special interests and to avoid kuleana (responsibility).

Ok, Hawaii Farm Bureau is saying: It’s big farmers helping little farmers too.  (We buy fertilizer in bulk.)  [Audience of real farmers is scoffing.]

The one that frosts me. “Enviros are against ag.”
Isaac asks: Where were you with legislature on supporting all our bills?
It’s about tax owners and land owners not ag.  Show me a single development on ag land that the Farm Bureau has come out against. On the contrary. A lot of high profile ones on prime ag land on Oahu, the farm bureau is saying we endorse this property.

Re: Commission appointments, this is the most politicized I’ve ever seen.
If you question this, I have 4 letters: A&B VP. The girl is involved w/ this too, HFB sits on nominating board.
The government lobbyist for A&B was sitting on this commission for 8 years.
They sit on nominating committee that takes the short list for commissioners.
[Hawaii] Supreme Court has been strong, upholding the law, but we have to solve this issue too.

There is another appointment coming up to the commission on the same old lines, the in-club, the plantation supporters.
Another different appointment, Jonathan Starr, that is thankfully going beyond the same old same old.

What can you do?
Find out what’s going on.
Hold the Farm Bureau accountable. I know this has been going on for many years and the farmers are frustrated with this. The union is one manifestation of this. (Transcriber's note: referring to how the Farmer's Union developed in response to the Farm Bureau not really representing true farmers.)

The Farm Bureau says they speak for farmers, but it’s a handful of individuals running amok for years and the legislature is lazy, so they assume, these two people say this, so all farmers need this. They are taking your name in vain. Gotta do something about this. 

Speak out to the legislature as farmers.

“Big farmers help out little farmers.” I heard a lot of scoffing in the audience about this No one knows wiser. I gotta plug Glenn Martinez, your prez, he showed up in person and gave inspiring testimony. He just got it. I wish I had a record of that. I feel the heavens opened up. This is a potential game changer of farmers calling this as BS.

Like Charlie, Waiahole taro farmer, takes a day off from his farm. He says, I don’t need this tax credit for land owners. You wanna help farmers? Give me health insurance.

Let’s stop the farmer catering to big land owners.

It’s bigger than catering to land
Let’s go beyond our colonial unsustainable narrow colonial view of agriculture.

Uncle John is giving a word. I realize it’s difficult for you, the legislature is far away. You don’t get paid for this as lobbyists.

Microphone turns over to Uncle John:
One thing to mention at the river walk down to Wailuku, HC & S came out w/ t-shirts after that.  “Share the water.”  I had to laugh. These t-shirts say share the water, just like as kids, we’re playing marbles. You come w/ 10 marbles, I have one, and I’m supposed to share my one marble with you? It doesn’t quite make sense. 

Note: HC & S stands for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company. A & B stands for Alexander & Baldwin.

For more information, or to get involved, www.earthjustice.com, www.mauifarmersunionunited.weebly.com, www.hawaiifarmersunionunited.org

Another related post is about contaminated well water on Maui, since it's connected to the plantations. 


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