The Ups and Downs of Bettering Molokai’s Molokai’s Water Woes

Picking up where August’s water meeting left of, community members regrouped last Saturday to deliberate over Molokai’s water issues. The intent of the September 8, 2007 meeting was to develop a framework for the future of the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS).

Where the previous meeting could be characterized as collaborative, Tuesday’s meeting was certainly more heated in nature. Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) representatives were pressed with questions regarding the finance and maintenance of the MIS.

But the recent news mandating the removal of Molokai Ranch from the MIS certainly caused the most discussion.

“Yes, we know there is a big elephant in the room,” said HDOA chairperson, Sandra Lee Kunimoto.

Kunimoto agreed the Attorney General’s decision requiring the Ranch to perform an environmental assessment of its MIS use was an important issue. However she advised that it not be addressed until more information was made available.

“We still need to talk about the system here. We have to improve the system, get things fixed and meet the farmer’s needs here. We have to move forward,” Kunimoto said.

In order to make improvements to the MIS, necessary finances must be available. The MIS is the only irrigation system in the state that consistently brings in a profit; yet the system is still in need of repairs.

Homesteader Glenn Teves wanted to know how much of the profits from the MIS went back into the maintenance of the system. The HDOA said they could not provide an answer at the time.

Community members sought to grasp how the monies brought in from the Molokai Ranch lease affect MIS finances.

Molokai Ranch’s lease of the MIS generates $11,474 a month, according to Adolph Helm, the chairperson of the MIS advisory board. The income generates a seven cent discount per 1,000 gallons. While ag users across the state pay 40 cents per thousand gallons, Molokai users pay 33 cents.

The state legislature subsidized state-wide irrigation systems by $425,000 this year. Out five statewide ag systems, the MIS is the only one to operate without a deficit. According to HDOA the subsidized monies are distributed on a first-come first-serve basis to cover operational and maintenance costs.

The HDOA did not have information regarding how much of the state subsidies were put into the MIS. It also did not have a break-down of funds allotted to each irrigation system state-wide. The HDOA said it would attempt to gather the data and make it available to the public.

Sen. Clayton Hee, D-Kahaluu, and others expressed frustration with the HDOA for not having answers to financial and management issues.

“I’m a member of the legislature and I’m telling you, this island has never been able to trust the government,” said Hee.

Hee has followed MIS issues since the 80’s and alleges that there are continued problems with the maintenance and management of the MIS today. 

Prior to 1990, the MIS was managed by the Dept. of Land and Natural Resources. Both the HDOA and the MIS advisory board acknowledged that there have been problems in the past and some remain today.

“This roadmap recognizes the short falls. But we have to look beyond and see how to deliver water in the most cost effective way, there are still contentious issues, but we have got to move forward,” said Helm.

 Throughout the meeting, facilitator Dr. Donna Chung tried to maneuver participants out of their own self interests in order to understand the others perspectives.

“We want to create a process that helps people begin to have a collaborative vision,” said Chung.

The comments on the draft will be posted on the HDOA Web site within the next two weeks. The comments will also be mailed to MIS users with October bills.

The next meeting will take place on October 27, 2007 at a Lanikeha Center. The meeting will focus on the two-thirds rights of the Hawaiian Homesteaders.


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