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Homesteaders Confront MIS

Water scarcity and increasing demands raise concerns.

By Brandon Roberts

Delinquent homesteader accounts remain a top priority for the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS). Board members said they are following the 2007 audit recommendation to take a more active role in obtaining overdue payments. However, homesteaders question the legality of being charged for water, and are asking the MIS board to put equal energy into all audit recommendations, not just homesteader accounts.

Homesteader Glenn Teves said the Department of Agriculture (DOA) has a fiduciary responsibility to the homesteaders with the system profits. He said if homesteaders were to get kicked off their lands, or be forced to quit farming, there is the “potential for the situation to get volatile.”

MIS chairman Adolph Helm said to attendees at last Tuesday’s meeting that no decision would be made yet, as it was solely a discussion session, adding that this is a product of the audit to find out how to proceed, and it is not about polarizing the issue. “We are not going after anybody.”

Non-Homesteader Use

Water demand continues to increase, while supplies plummet. In one month, the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS) reservoir has dropped 50 million gallons, from 19 feet to 17 feet. Despite the Hawaiian homesteader’s two-thirds right to water, roughly 80 percent of MIS supplies are allocated to non-homesteaders.

If the reservoir drops another two feet, a mandatory 20 percent conservation reduction will be issued to all non-homestead users. An advisory board would consult the DOA, which manages the MIS, on how to handle homesteader restrictions.

In an attempt to bypass this cutback, corn-grower Monsanto has proposed to pay for increased MIS pumping from Waikolo Valley. Presently, the DOA is checking into the viability of this proposal by conducting hydrology reports and assessing permit restrictions.

Randolph Teruya, DOA asset manager said Monsanto has increased its producing acreage and water usage in the past year. He also said the DOA will ask all non-homesteaders for a water conservation plan for the upcoming summer, but the agencies hands are tied because conservation enforcement is a county responsibility.  

MIS board member James Boswell motioned for the MIS to send a letter to Monsanto to stop watering with a cannon during the day, where most of the water evaporates in the hot sun and wind. The MIS will request watering be done at night for efficiency and conservation.

“They (Monsanto) have no right to more water without the community getting more water,” said Aunty Joyce from North Shore area of Pelekunu. She listened as the MIS meeting progressed, and chose her time to speak, and when she did, the room listened. “We have to learn to talk with each other, not talk at each other. We need to learn how to communicate,” she said.

Aunty Joyce’s message is to protect water for the next homesteaders, and to get back to the legal definition of two-thirds rights. She said if that is the law, then there is no need for discussion, just follow it.

Aunty Joyce said the drought has hit the whole island, and the MIS needs to look at the source, the streams. “The water is final, I can see my ground shrinking, things are shifting.” She said her stream is running at half of its normal volume and described the water pipes as snakes sucking the water from the streams.

West End Water

Last September, a letter from the attorney general’s (AG) office stated Molokai Properties Limited (MPL) must get off the state run MIS until an environmental assessment is completed. 

To date, no assessment has been performed and the DOA has taken a wait-and-see policy despite the AG’s mandate of “getting MPL off the system as quickly as possible.”

Walter Ritte, Ho`olehua homesteader, read the section of the AG letter to the MIS board, questioning Teruya and the DOA’s lack of inertia on the MPL situation. “What are you (DOA) waiting for?”

Teruya informed MIS meeting attendees that it was not his understanding that MPL needs to get off the system. He said the company needs to perform an EA to renew its permit.

Senator Russell Kokubun, former Agriculture Committee Chair, said that MPL was the primary revenue for the MIS, contributing $136,000 a year. “The MIS needs to rethink management.”

Sen. Kokubun thought it would be a “really good thing” for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) to purchase the system from MPL. “They (DHHL) could control the source and the system, and figure how to allocate the resources for their beneficiaries.”

Senator Jill Tokuda, Chair of the Water and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, believes the senate needs to take a better look at the system. “The MIS is a high priority; aspects may be beyond the scope of the audit.”

Helm said the projected date for MPL to dispose of its water utilities is Aug. 31. He is not aware of who will take over the utility at that point. He did note that MPL is paying its monthly bill.

New Board Representation

The MIS audit recommended additional seats be created to ensure a two-thirds homesteader representation.

Helm welcomed the community to be involved in the board selection process, explaining that the board will be expanded without exclusion, and that it will be more than one seat.

Addressing last year’s attempt to remove him from the chair position, Helm said he would be stepping down next June at the conclusion of his four-year term.

At this point, no decisions have been made. The MIS board is still responding to the audit and looking for solutions. No direct actions have been undertaken, and the board welcomes community input.

“Every user brings value to the system,” Helm said.

In a last minute vote, the MIS board voted to hold meetings every other month, instead of monthly. The next MIS meeting is scheduled for July 15 at the MIS building in Ho`olehua at 10 a.m.


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