Hawaii Farmers Challenge Water Allocation

July 12, 2004

A battle is raging in central O’ahu, Hawaii, over the allocation of water from the Waiahole Ditch, the Honolulu Advertiser reported.

Farmers on both sides of the river argue that they badly need the water to irrigat their fields. Environmentalists also interject that more water is needed to support native stream life and community uses.

Now, for the second time, Hawaii's Supreme Court has told the water commission that it has to justify how it arrived at its water-allocation decisions and that it must make water users on the Leeward side justify their need for irrigation water, the Honolulu Advertiser reported.

The ditch was built in 1916 to carry fresh water from Windward streams to vast Leeward sugar cane fields. But as the sugar industry faded, Windward activists and taro farmers fought for the return of the diverted water.

In December 1997, the water commission allocated 14.03 million gallons a day to Leeward O'ahu and 12.97 million gallons for the Windward side.

The ruling was appealed by Paul Achitoff, an attorney with Earthjustice, on behalf of the Waiahole-Waikane Community Association, Hakipu'u 'Ohana and Ka Lahui Hawaii, and the Hawaii Supreme Court instructed the water commission to consider more fully the public interest in protecting and restoring Windward stream systems, the Honolulu Advertiser reported.

When the commission's December 2001 revision showed little change from its 1997 numbers, it was again appealed. The court, in a ruling issued June 21 of this year, again faulted the commission.

The court said much of the water commission's 2001 ruling failed to comply with the state water code and public trust principles. It said the commission failed to make sufficient findings, based on evidence in the record, to support its decisions, the Honolulu Advertiser reported.

The court ordered the commission to reconsider the amount of water that Windward streams need to support native stream life and community uses. And the court ordered the commission to vacate the water-use permits it had issued to Leeward users.

"The court has sent a strong message to the water commission that there will be no giveaway of our public-trust resources," Kate Hoe, a member of Hakipu'u 'Ohana, told the Honolulu Advertiser. "Our streams will get the protection that the law requires."

Source: Honolulu Advertiser