We came so close this past Thursday to forging a new path in the crucial conversation about water, water rights and water use in Hawaii.

NOTE: pick the correct link

We came so close to making progress in reconciling the legitimate interests of Native Hawaiians, environmentalists, farmers, ranchers, utility companies, agricultural landowners and the general public in a transparent and rational manner.

And then it was all snatched away (“Water Rights Bill Goes Down The Drain In ‘Historic Vote’”).

This new path was laid out in the Senate Draft 1 for House Bill 1326, authored by state Sen. Kai Kahele and offered up for consideration and vote at the joint hearing of the Senate Water and Land and the Ways and Means committees. Senate Draft 1 was “a perfect balance” according to Marti Townsend, executive director of the Sierra Club, and was supported by both OHA and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.

Papakolea resident Kauluwehiokalani Eli holds her sign against the Senate viewing windows thru the Capitol rotunda regarding HB2501 forcing lawmakers into majority caucus room because of the noise. 12 april 2016.
Papakolea resident Kauluwehiokalani Eli protesting outside the Senate viewing windows in April 2016 regarding a bill favoring A&B’s water permits in East Maui. The issue is back at the Legislature this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It was also perfectly acceptable to the affected farmers and ranchers, such as myself, and it would have provided a fair process for A&B and its successor Mahi Pono to make the case for “actual reasonable” water use for agricultural purposes on Maui.

I am one of the ranchers in Kau affected by this decision. Although access to agricultural water sources is crucial for me in order to provide water to the cattle on our family ranch, I never wanted to get dragged into the fight centered around stream water diversions on Maui.

The water that the ranchers and farmers of Kau utilize is not stream water but rather water from “horizontal wells” dug into hillsides in the last century by the long defunct sugar plantations to tap underground water sources.

There are no perennial streams in Kau that could be diverted, as is the case on Maui. Our sources of water and the scale of water available is entirely distinct. The only thing that placed the farmers and ranchers in Kau on the same “side” as A&B is that we have the same kind of permits — the Department of Land and Natural Resource’s revocable permit.

I have been, however reluctantly, directly involved in this discussion, having submitted testimony both written and in person, because the livelihood of our community in Kau and in other rural areas depend upon how this issue is handled

Not A Perfect Bill

I’m sure HB 1326 SD1 wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge step in the right direction. The Water and Land Committee voted to pass it 3-2, and then the Ways and Means Committee, without explanation, and to the shock of all watching, from all sides of this debate, deferred the bill indefinitely.

Some have called the indefinite deferral of HB 1326 a victory, but it seems a bitter and sad victory that hurts so many and kills the possibility of a compromise that would have been a true victory.

Our politicians must provide rationales for their decisions.

I want to know why this possibility was taken away. I would like our legislative leadership, and specifically each senator on the Ways and Means Committee to explain their reasoning for deferring and effectively killing HB 1326 SD1.

I believe that we must move our state past the backroom deal-making and petty personal politics that has blighted our political process for too long. Our politicians must provide rationales for their decisions, so that we can all understand and weigh those decisions and the thought processes behind them.

As someone directly affected by this decision, I believe that we, the stakeholders in this conversation, as well as the public in general, deserve a clear explanation.

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