Ranch Attempts to Legalize Water System

Environmental assessment sought for use of Molokai Irrigation System.

For almost 40 years, Molokai Properties Limited, also known as Molokai Ranch, has been using an irrigation system, intended for agriculture and Hawaiian homesteaders, to transfer water to west Molokai. In September 2007, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that Molokai Properties Limited (MPL) be required to complete an environmental study before continuing its use of the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS). Since that time, MPL has been using the system under an expired agreement with the State Department of Agriculture (DOA).

MPL is now preparing a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for their continued use of a state-run irrigation system. The original agreement between the state and MPL issued in the 1970s preceded the requirement for an environmental study. To comply with current laws, MPL has contracted environmental consulting firm Environet to examine potential environmental effects of using the system. The study comes as a recommendation of the DOA, which will be the approving agency for the EA.

“As far as we’re concerned, they’re breaking the law every day,” said attorney Alan Murakami. Murakami has represented Hawaiian homesteaders in several cases against MPL’s use of the system.

By law, Hawaiian homesteaders have a right to two thirds of MIS water. Although they are currently using much less than that, Murakami said legalizing MPL’s use of the MIS could infringe on homesteaders’ right to the irrigation system, and pose potential competition for limited water resources. He added that continued access could allow MPL the opportunity to further develop its west Molokai properties and thus increase water demand.

“The potential secondary impacts of allowing MIS use for non-MIS subscribers is huge,” said Murakami.

The EA process began when Environet was first contact by MPL CEO Peter Nicholas three months ago, according to Colette Sakoda, Environet environmental planning program manager. She added there is a “sense of urgency,” as the state has mandated action be taken by MPL in order for them to renew their lease and continue using the MIS.

Following the Flow
MPL’s transmission of 350,000 gallons per day begins at the company’s Well 17 located above Kualapu`u. From there it is pumped less than a mile into the MIS reservoir where it is mixed with non-potable ag water. From the MIS reservoir, the water is pumped west, 9 miles to Pu`u Nana in Maunaloa. There, a treatment system prepares the water for potable consumption. The water is then piped to a reservoir in Maunaloa and gravity fed to Kaluakoi.

The EA is now in its scoping phase. Initial input will be provided by a select group of fifty consulted parties, according to Sakoda. Community feedback will also be gathered through an upcoming cultural assessment, to be completed by Davianna McGregor. McGregor has also provided cultural assessments for MPL’s La`au Point proposal, Mo`omomi Preserve, and The Nature Conservancy’s Kamakou Preserve, among others. 

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