The Maui News reported this week on how Alexander & Baldwin is seeking a long-term water lease to divert water from East Maui streams on state land, “after years of relying on temporary permits that came under fire from community and environmental groups and the courts.”

A&B and subsidiary East Maui Irrigation Co. are asking the state Board of Land and Natural Resources for a 30-year lease that would allow for “developing, diverting, transporting and using government owned waters” through EMI’s existing ditch system.

The plan is detailed in a draft environmental impact statement released Monday by Mahi Pono, a new farming entity that bought more than 41,000 acres of agricultural farmland in Central Maui from A&B in December.

Mahi Pono held a formal blessing ceremony in August to mark the planting of red and yellow potatoes on 40-acres of land in Central Maui. Mahi Pono

“The filing of the DEIS is an important step in ensuring both the supply of water for Upcountry Maui residents and supporting Mahi Pono’s vision of transitioning former sugar cane land into diversified agriculture, increasing local food production and helping achieve food security for Maui, and our state,” said Shan Tsutsui, senior vice president of operations for Mahi Pono. “We are pleased that EMI is moving forward with this process.”

But the Sierra Club said in a press release of its own this week that the draft EIS needs to be “thoroughly vetted and analyzed before they harm stream ecosystems mauka to makai, and the communities that rely upon them.”

Said Marti Townsend, Director for the Sierra Club of Hawaii, “We have heard the big promises of big agriculture before, and we lived through the hardship it created. While the Sierra Club firmly supports agriculture in Central Maui, we will not allow future agriculture there to undermine the health of East Maui’s streams.”

The group said it is “irresponsible in the age of climate change to assume that any activity could continue for 30 years.”

It added, “The state has all the authority it needs to protect the public’s streams from excessive, profit-driven diversions; it just needs to use it.”

Mahi Pono did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the Sierra Club’s concern.

Public comments to the BLNR on the draft EIS runs through Nov. 7.

Read more about the A&B water lease saga here.

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