The huhu over the Iao Stream diversion is a diversion from the real concern about water on Maui. I’ll get back to the diversion, but first let’s examine the area.
Na Wai Eha watershed supplies most of Maui’s domestic water — all of Central and South Maui’s — either by recharging the aquifer or by feeding the streams. The heart of the watershed is 13,700 acres of conservation land owned in fee by Wailuku Water Co. LLC.
This is the most valuable land on Maui. If it becomes degraded, we cannot live here.
It could happen. Miconia has destroyed the forests of Tahiti.
There is a West Maui Watershed Partnership that attempts to protect the forest but it (along with the similar East Maui organization) is chronically underfunded. Just knowing what is happening in the forest is knowledge expensive to obtain. The land is almost inaccessible to humans though birds and spores can get there easily.
Despite the fantasies of the diversion protesters, Wailuku Water does not earn corporate profits from the water it harvests. It has been losing money for years. It does not have the funds to properly manage the forest.
Obviously, if water is a public trust, this land ought to be in public ownership. Mayor Arakawa does not understand this. Years ago, he tried to buy just the water collection and delivery system. He was properly stiffed by Wailuku Water.
There is no indication he has learned about water since, but it is not essential that the county own the land. It could as well be the state. What cannot be sustained is private ownership.
(Amusing side note: while Arakawa was embarked on his silly bid for the intakes, the council acted even sillier. It decided it wanted a piece of the inaction, despite a recent charter amendment giving responsibility for water to the mayor. It hired a lawyer to “advise it of its [non-existent] rights.” The council eventually blew over a quarter of a million dollars on this nonsense. The lawyers’ report is still secret, because very embarrassing to the members, but we know what it said: butt out.)
For years, whenever anyone asked me about local politics, I had the same answer: Water is the only issue; if you don’t fix water, it doesn’t matter whether you fix anything else. Water has not been fixed although the most acute threat, the failure of Shaft 33, has been taken care of by abandoning and replacing that source.
Remarkably, water is now only fourth in this list of imminent disasters facing the county, proving that if you ignore a problem long enough you can turn it into a crisis. The gravest threat now is the failure of the hospital, followed in order by the collapse of Honoapiilani Highway in the vicinity of Ukumehame and the looming closure by the FAA of the crumbling runway 20-2 at the airport.
Back to the diversion. The West Maui Mountain was two miles high a million years ago. Now it is one mile high. A lot of rocks have been sluiced into the ocean, with big rocks crushing medium rocks into gravel along the way. It takes a big storm to move the rocks but these are frequent. There have been at least four in the past century, including one last month. It had been an unusually long time since the last — about 34 years, or before most of the diversion protesters were born.
If you hike far enough into the valley — I have been farther up than most, perhaps any, of the protesters — you can still see the impressive remains of the destruction the 1916 flood did to the then-new diversion structures. One piece in particular, a masonry wall that probably weighs 20 tons, is a mile from where it was built.
No diversions are permanent; all have to be rebuilt if people with kuleana rights are to continue to have access to water.
Few of the kuleana users want the water for loi today — no one wants to work in the loi — but their rights derived from the Mahele are still legal, kingdom rights. Today, most need the water for their homes. It seems odd that the protesters are, in effect, demanding that indigenous rights be extinguished; odder still that they are out to damage the interests of some of the poorer Native Hawaiians.
(Amusing side note: years ago I was covering a very boring hearing on Na Wai Eha rights at the Queen Emma center. The documents contained surveys of the loi at issue carried out to the ten-thousandths of an acre (4 square feet). The room was covered with 12-inch linoleum squares, and I spent my time comparing the loi to the room we were in. The room was bigger.)
Are the rocks sacred? The alii were not buried in the riverbed, and the rocks in the river today were not in the river at the time the last alii burial was made. If they are sacred it is only by contagion; and if that’s the case, maybe the protesters should be demanding the evacuation of Happy Valley, or possibly all of Wailuku.
UPDATE: Some background about kuleana water access. I'd forgotetn I wrote this but the internet hardly ever forgets
And there's this.
It's nice that some of my stories were pirated since The Maui News digital archives are gone.
People who say, however, that the destruction of newspapers by wholesale theft of their intellectual property would be made good by reporting and dissemination of news by new sources were crazy. Nobody reports water news as well as I used to do it.