House Bill 1326 seeks a seven-year extension on the use of temporary permits for permanent diversions of public water. The extension would build on the three-year extension stream diverters already received when lawmakers passed House Bill 2501 in 2016.

This bill represents special treatment for key corporations while harming public trust resources and the public interest.

For more than 30 years, A&B has been using sugar plantation ditches to divert excessive amounts of stream water from East Maui to its agricultural land in central Maui all without a long-term lease or any of the long-term planning, market valuations, and habitat protections required by state law. As a result, the residents of East Maui did not have enough water to farm taro or support their basic needs.

So egregious was A&B’s abuse of the temporary permit system that a circuit court ruled against them in January 2016, prohibiting A&B from using temporary permits to authorize permanent diversions of stream water.

Alexander & Baldwin has yet to restore water to Hanehoi Stream in East Maui that was diverted for other purposes. Nate Yuen

Instead of abiding by the circuit court’s ruling, A&B went to the Legislature and asked them to pass H.B. 2501. This bill ultimately became Act 126 and allowed A&B to legally use these temporary permits for three more years.

Since that bill was passed, A&B closed its last sugar plantation (laying off almost 700 workers right before Christmas), converted to a Real Estate Investment Trust (which does not pay state taxes), and sold its land in central Maui for $262 million.

Don’t Reward A Travesty

In the sales agreement, it is made clear that $62 million of that deal was for 30 million gallons of water a day from East Maui for five years. According to state law, all water in Hawaii is public. So the water of East Maui was not A&B’s to profit from, yet it did.

This travesty should not be rewarded with another extension to access the people’s water in a way that sidesteps the minimum legal requirements to protect the resource, and the people and wildlife that depend on it.

A&B is the only entity barred from diverting water using temporary permits because it was the only entity that the circuit court ruled against in its decision. Not the County of Maui nor ranchers on Big Island nor the new owners of central Maui agricultural lands, or even the utility on Kauai will be denied water when the 2016 extension expires later this year as it was originally designed to do.

There is no reason to pass HB 1326 HD2, except to allow A&B to divert stream water it does not need and that is not a good reason to circumvent our laws again.

“According to state law, all water in Hawaii is public.”

There is a legal process for requesting access to public lands for the purpose of diverting some of the people’s water for private use. This process is designed to ensure the watershed is protected, stream ecosystems are not harmed, and the public is properly compensated for the use of public trust resources. The Department of Land and Natural Resources and any entity seeking to divert water away from the public should be made to follow this process.

We are asking state government to follow its laws: make sure the public receives fair compensation for the use of Hawaii’s public trust resources, while protecting those resources — and the traditional Hawaiian lifestyles that depends on them — from harm.

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