HONOLULU (KHON2) — The state official in charge of managing access to water resources has been sidelined following a controversy about the Lahaina firefight.

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As hotspots flared up last Tuesday afternoon, after Lahaina’s morning blaze was thought to be contained, Glenn Tremble from West Maui Land Company had an idea.

“Before the fire swept into Lahaina, we asked for permission to fill our reservoirs,” Tremble told me, “to assist Maui Fire Department, which uses the reservoirs for fighting wildfires using helicopters.”

No helicopters were in the air, in winds that clocked up to 82 miles an hour. So firefighters were left tackling it on the ground, and they found that system failing as the fire grew more intense.

Water rights expert Dr. Jonathan Likeke Scheuer of Kahalawai Consulting explains what a Maui Department of Water Supply official said likely happened.

“Simply with the ferocity and speed of the fire, and pipes leaking everywhere, the system depressurized,” Scheuer explained. “Getting more water into the system depends on pumps pumping groundwater very heavily up to higher elevation tanks. If those pumps went down because power went down, once all the water was used in the system, you weren’t replenishing it.”

As for the reservoir water request, Always Investigating verified that Tremble, from West Maui Land, and Deputy Director for Water Resource Management Kaleo Manuel were actively in touch through the afternoon starting at 12:19 p.m. At Manuel’s recommendation, Tremble tries to consult a downstream user who would have been affected by a water diversion. Unable to reach that farm after a couple of hours of trying, Tremble told Manuel around quarter to 4 they’d make adjustments pending their own evacuating staff, and at 6:05 Manuel authorized it. By then Lahaina was engulfed.

“The Launiupoko irrigation system, which gets water from Kauaula stream, is not tied to the county water system whatsoever,” Scheurer explained. “So there’s no way that water could have been released by permission of the water commission and made it to Lahaina.”

Late Wednesday, the DLNR announced Manuel was re-assigned to a different DLNR division.

“The purpose of this deployment is to permit CWRM and the Department to focus on the necessary work to assist the people of Maui recover from the devastation of wildfires,” DLNR said in a statement. “This deployment does not suggest that First Deputy Manuel did anything wrong. DLNR encourages the media and the public to avoid making judgments until all the facts are known.”

Tremble said of the reassignment: “We have worked with Kaleo for years, and we respect his commitment and integrity. This was not the fault of a person. It was a failure of a process and of priorities.”

Others are vociferously coming to Manuel’s defense. We’re told dozens gathered at his office Thursday as he prepared to move.

“The word furious has been used,” Scheuer said.

Here’s how Gov. Josh Green addressed water access at a Monday press conference: “One thing that people need to understand, especially from far away, is there has been a great deal of water conflict on Maui for many years. It’s important that we’re honest about this. People have been fighting against the release of water to fight fires.”

Scheuer literally co-wrote the book on Valley Isle water resources called “Water and Power in West Maui” and said:

“It appears that the [Tremble and Manuel water matter] is being used as an excuse to further an agenda that already existed… [Green] suspended the water code in Lahaina due to the fires. He’s suspended certain other provisions of law in the housing proclamation. And in his comments on Monday, he specifically alleged something that I’ve never heard to be the case: that people are fighting against the provision of water for firefighting across Hawaii.”

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