The Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management restored more than 12 million gallons per day to West Maui’s largest streams. It might sound like a lot, but it’s about one-third the amount recommended by one of its members last year.

The commission on Thursday issued its 248-page decision and order [pdf], setting interim instream flow standards for four streams — Waihee, Waiehu, Iao and Waikapu — that are together known as Na Wai Eha. Civil Beat covered the issue last month in a story titled “What Rules Maui Water, Law or Sugar?

Going forward, no less than 12.5 million gallons will flow through the streams each day, but that’s only a faction of the 60 million or 70 million gallons of fresh water that are diverted from Na Wai Eha each day for off-stream uses like Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Co.’s plantation.

In April 2009, commission hearings officer Dr. Lawrence Miike suggested that about half of the total flow — 34.5 million gallons per day — be returned to the streams. He provided a dissenting opinion Thursday.

“This is a miscarriage of justice and it will not stand,” Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake said in a press release, pointing out that two of the four streams will not receive any restoration at all and that the 12.5 mgd figure is even less than the 16 mgd figure suggested by HC&S. “In the 21st century, the Commission majority is still letting plantation politics, rather than the law, rule our most precious resource.”

HC&S had said that returning too much water to the streams would, when combined with the drought Maui has suffered through, be the death blow for its century-old sugar plantation and put its 800 employees out of work. A cursory review of the decision led the company to believe it had been given a “fighting chance to survive.”

“The Na Wai Eha decision will result in significantly less water available for farming and it will increase our operating costs, but it is dramatically improved from the initial recommended D&O,” HC&S General Manager Chris Benjamin said in a press release. “We are encouraged, however, that the Commission recognized the important public benefits served by off-stream uses, and the importance of water to the many Maui farmers, businesses and residents who have relied on these stream waters for over 100 years to make Maui’s arid central valley and upcountry areas productive.”

Read Civil Beat’s Q&A with Benjamin about Na Wai Eha.

The commission defended its decision in the press release [pdf] announcing it.

“Even if we allowed 100 percent of the stream water to be diverted, there is simply not enough water in these streams to meet the offstream demands,” Commission Chair Laura Thielen said in the release.

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