Water Commission Should Uphold Decision to Restore Kawela Stream
Opinion by Walter Ritte, Molokai Nō Ka Heke
Last October, the State Commission on Water Resource Management ordered Molokai Properties, Ltd. to fully restore Kawela Stream, and to find ways to use the reservoirs and other stream diversions MPL already owns to supply offstream uses. MPL requested a contested case to oppose the Commission’s decision to permanently restore Kawela Stream.
The Water Commission should uphold its decision to restore Kawela Stream.
The Commission followed the law. Under the Hawaii Constitution and Water Code, the Water Commission must protect, restore, and reestablish instream values, including the use of stream waters for the exercise of traditional and customary Native Hawaiian rights. The Commission made the right decision based on these laws when it told MPL to fully restore Kawela Stream and meet offstream needs with other sources.
MPL does not need to divert Kawela Stream. According to MPL, it currently uses only around 42,000 gallons per day (gpd) of stream water, but had been diverting 372,000 gpd—nine times as much water as it needs—with most of the water taken from Kawela.
MPL owns three other unused intakes, which once supplied 320,000 gpd to the Mountain Water System. MPL would not need to construct new intakes—just use what it already has—to more than meet its 42,000 gpd of offstream needs.
MPL also owns nearly 50 million gallons of reservoir storage, including two 15-million-gallon reservoirs along the forest access road. Most of the reservoirs are in terrible shape and cannot hold water. With responsible use of its reservoirs and alternative sources, MPL can more than meet its needs without diverting a single drop from Kawela.
Restoration of Kawela Stream supports wetland restoration efforts and protects the drinking water supply. Kawela’s mauka flows are directly connected to the health of the fresh water supply and wetlands. Water flowing down the mountain is absorbed underground to collect and emerge at lower elevations, both in the streambed and throughout the makai lowlands. There are ongoing community efforts to restore Kawela’s Kakahai‘a fishpond and growing interest in the benefits that full stream restoration can have for Kawela makai. Restoration of Kawela Stream will recharge the Kawela aquifer, which will benefit the wetlands, the Kakahai‘a restoration efforts, and Kawela’s fresh water supply.
The community has spent years learning about Kawela’s hydrology, working with Commission staff to understand the numbers, visiting the mountain streams and diversions, and advocating to the Water Commission. All that hard work paid off last year when the Commission decided to fully restore Kawela Stream. Now, MPL wants to hijack this major community achievement by turning it into a lawsuit. We want to make sure the community is informed about these issues, and we look forward to more discussions about how we can secure Moloka‘i’s water future.