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Putting Water in Local Hands

Sustainable Molokai sheds light on Ranch water

In the midst of a water permit acquisition and an important-agricultural land designation request by Molokai Properties Ltd (MPL), there are many questions remaining for homesteaders who feel bound to Molokai’s water.

Malia Akutagawa is president of Sust `ainable Molokai, a grassroots organization that educates the public on sustainability through traditional as well as modern methods.

Lately, Akutagawa has been teaching homesteaders about their rights to Molokai’s water. “Why are they [MPL] trying to get a permit to draw the water without a permit to pump it,” Akutagawa asked an audience of about 20 Ho`olehua homesteader s at Lanikeha last Wednesday.

The homesteader’s water has had multiple overseers, but has been coming from the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS) since 1975. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources controlled the MIS until 1989, until the Department of Agriculture (DOA) took over in 1989.

But some residents at the meeting wondered why they aren’t the ones governing the water. 

“Why don’t the homesteaders start taking control of the MIS,” asked one man.

“It’s possible. You must put pressure on DHHL,” Akutagawa responded.

No Fines
MPL leases MIS pipeline in order to transfer water to west Molokai. However, their permits to pump water from the Kualapu`u Reservior and to use MIS pipeline have both expired. According to 2010 Hawaii’s Revised Statutes, MPL’s water company, Kaluokoi Water Ltd (KWL) could be racking up $5,000 per day fines without a valid permit. However, the Commission on Water Resource Managament is not collecting those fines.

Other homesteaders think self-sufficiency is key.

“We have to start focusing on taking care of ourselves,” said Kammy Purdy, a homesteader and president of Ahapua`a O Molokai homestead association. “We have a manageable population on Molokai. It’s doable.”

MPL’s current application to transmit water requires an environmental assessment (EA). Akutagawa stressed that homesteaders should participate in the study by submitting written testimony. If evidence shows MPL’s use of the pipeline would cause substantial environmental and cultural damage, Akutagawa said MPL may be required to undergo an Environmental Impact Statement, which is more of a thorough study than an EA.

Voicing Opinions
Public comment included in the study must be taken into consideration after MPL completes a draft of the EA.

“Everybody [homesteaders] have rights to the system. They [MPL] have to be accountable,” Akutagawa said.

Malia Akutagawa would like to thank the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson of Law and The Ka Huli Ao Center of Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law students and Professor Kapua for their research on these topics.

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