The Hawaii Farmers Union United represents local farmers, ranchers and fishermen across our state, on every island, and we have approximately 1,000 active members. HFUU advocates for the sovereign right of farmers to create and sustain vibrant and prosperous agricultural communities for the benefit of all Hawaii through cooperation, education and legislation.

It’s in that spirit we are concerned that House Bill 2501 and its proposed amendments, denies adequate water supplies to hundreds of rural East Maui farmers and residents, as well as the publicly owned watershed lands.

Simply put: We need to find a proactive way, collectively, to support all farmers.

Freshwater resources in Maui are of particular concern to the farmers union with regard to HB2501.
Freshwater resources in Maui are of particular concern to the farmers union with regard to HB2501. Josh Henderson via Flickr

In Article II of the HFUU-approved 2015 membership policy, we put forth that water is essential to all life and is a sacred public resource that everyone needs, and must therefore be held in the public trust. HFUU supports the Constitutionally protected water rights established by the State of Hawaii and state executive branch efforts, as trustee of these public trust resources, to implement a system of sharing the water that is fair to all — the streams, stream life and watersheds, traditional practitioners, kuleana users, farmers, ranchers and domestic water users.

In spite of extensive input by legislators, the various versions of HB2501, do not accomplish this goal.

In fact, HB2501 and its latest amendments appear to be looking at only one aspect of our water policy: how to improve the permit system for off-stream uses by allowing more time for holdover  permits and hiring more staff. While this improvement is important to a handful of farms, ranches and the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, all of which are pursuing long-term diversion permits from public lands, it does nothing to address the big picture.

We need to actually have our water policies be more than “laws on paper” implemented primarily for the benefit of the largest water users.

Hawaiian communities in East Maui have followed the law and turned to the state and its boards and commissions and finally the courts to ask for their constitutionally protected rights to adequate water. Many of those who began the process more than 30 years ago have died waiting for justice.

HB2501 does not provide a solution for this lack of justice, it does the opposite. It only helps those who already have use of public waters, not those who have the strongest Constitutionally protected rights, yet still are waiting to see their streams flow.

We need to actually have our water policies be more than “laws on paper” implemented primarily for the benefit of the largest water users.

HFUU recognizes that fresh water resources, both ground and surface waters, are public water trust resources to be held, conserved, managed, regulated, shared and enhanced for the greater public good. HFUU is deeply concerned that if this HB2501 special legislation passes, it will result in more long and costly litigation and not bring any real long-term certainty and security to all those, including Maui’s farmers, who depend upon our public trust water resources.

HFUU urges the state and the Legislature to reject this one-sided fix for deficiencies in our water policies and instead to bring everyone to the table to seek solutions to the major challenges we all face if we want to have an adequate public water supply and support viable family farms. For if all stakeholders who value producing our local agricultural food, fiber and fuel security are not at the table, then we are concerned they will be part of the menu.

HFUU offers a number of policy suggestions. These are the result of hundreds of people every year at our state conventions debating issues relating to agriculture in Hawaii. Our policies are ratified by a majority of members present. Read our entire policy statement here: Key provisions of HFUU policy support the following:

  • Adequate funding for watershed restoration and preservation;
  • Access for family farmers and farmer cooperatives to water resources with long-term agreements from the DLNR and ADC (prioritized to support local food production and food security);
  • Allowing for the use of filtered catchment water for washing produce in value added food processing;
  • Increased raw water storage to secure water supplies from rainfall fluctuations;
  • Restructured, well managed and maintained diversion systems to support stream restoration, east Maui Communities, and native stream life and more efficiently supply water to domestic systems and farmers in upcountry and central Maui.
  • A new cooperative stream water management council that involves all stakeholders in setting water distribution policies from the diversion system.

We have an opportunity to begin creation of a 21st century water policy for Maui that is steeped in ramping up our local agricultural production to off set imports of what can be grown here. That is why the HFUU state organization and the three Maui chapters urge the state Senate to oppose HB2501 and its amendments. This bill only ties us more to an agricultural era and model of the past that needs to evolve into providing our present and future family farmers access to water.

In opposing this bill we are looking out for the best and highest interest of our public trust resources, while making sure our laws are followed and water is fairly shared by all.

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