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More Water Allocated for Molokai Homesteaders

Improvements to the Ho’olehua Water System are in progress. Photo courtesy of g70 Design.

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Half a million additional gallons of water per day will be available for new and existing uses for homesteaders on Molokai. A decision by the Hawaiian Commission on Water Resources Management (CWRM) last week approved a permit request from the Dept. of Hawaiian Home Lands, marking a long-awaited milestone to increase opportunities for Hawaiian Homesteaders.

“This year marks the centennial anniversary of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act,” said Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey. “For nearly 30 of these past 100 years, there has been no expansion of homesteading opportunities on Molokai, despite the best efforts of DHHL and OHA to create such opportunities by upholding DHHLʻs priority right to water in a manner consistent with the public trust, and the state water code.”
The Commission previously reserved nearly three million gallons per day to DHHL, and portions of the water approved last week will be deducted from that reservation, said CWRM Deputy Kaleo Manuel.

The decision marks one ruling in a string of water rights litigations that have been in process for 30 years. In 1993, DHHL filed a water user permit application for a half million gallons of potable water from two wells. Earlier that year, Molokai Irrigation System, Molokai Ranch and the Maui Department of Water Supply had all filed competing applications for water from the Kualapu‘u Aquifer System Area.

Lindsey years have been spent trying to prioritize water rights for Native Hawaiians but “these efforts have been continually stymied by powerful interests, including in particular the currently closed Molokai Ranch.”

Water use permit applications from Molokai Properties Ltd., also known as Molokai Ranch, and Maui Department of Water Supply will be considered at a future CWRM meeting.

DHHL is currently halfway through a two-year, $37 million capital improvement project to upgrade the 80-year-old Hoʻolehua Water System. Enhancements to the system will include the installation of a 200,000-gallon storage tank, upgrades to automation systems, a new warehouse, and a new emergency generator diesel fuel tank. Other improvements involve new paved roads and fencing, along with the repair and replacement of existing tanks, pumps, transmission mains, laterals, valves and hydrants, according to DHHL.

The Hoʻolehua Water System serves more than 2,400 customers, including about 500 homesteads in Hoʻolehua-Palaʻau, Kalamaʻula and Moʻomomi. The system also provides water to the post office, schools and the airport.
The new allocation will allow the development of additional homestead lots for Molokai.

“Not only [will] this benefit existing homesteaders and others who depend on DHHLʻs water system, but would also significantly advance the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act‘s mission to return Hawaiians to the land, by providing sufficient water to establish 171 new homestead service connections and up to 210 new service connections for subdivided homestead lots,” said Lindsey.

Additionally, DHHL asked the Commission to approve conditions in its water use permit application to protect traditional and customary rights. This will include implementation of community-led efforts to replace invasive species with native species to try to improve the health of the coastal ecosystem, said DHHL in its release. It also includes the support and encourage efforts to reduce erosion and restore native vegetation in Kalama‘ula’s mauka areas, and the availability of “certain Community Use designated areas as outdoor classrooms for schoolchildren, particularly for the perpetuation of traditional and customary groundwater dependent practices and resource management.”

“…The long delay in awarding water to DHHL has caused suffering among homesteaders on Molokai,” said homesteader Glenn Teves. “Yesterday’s vote is a meaningful step towards addressing that history.”


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