Court upholds BLNR use of East Maui streams

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The First Circuit Court has ruled in favor of the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR), Maui County, Alexander and Baldwin and East Maui Irrigation in a case regarding water diversions from east Maui streams.  

During a weeks-long trial, which began last August, the Sierra Club, who brought forth the case, argued that the BLNR’s decision to renew two hold-over Revocable Permits (RPs) and allow for the diversion of some water from East Maui violated its public trust duties.

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The case focused on 13 Maui streams.

“This is a classic balancing”, the court ruled, “and the court is persuaded and finds and concludes that applying the applicable law. It was not unreasonable for the BLNR to balance these considerations as it did.” 

The court concurred with trial testimony that “supported the core concepts that keeping lands in agriculture benefitted the public interest by providing jobs, food sustainability, food sources, strengthened the state and county economy, and dependable water was essential to achieve those ends.” 

Since the end of sugar cane cultivation on Maui, the diversion of water from east Maui streams to support municipal and agricultural uses has been contentious.

In 2018, the Commission on Water Resources Management (CWRM) issued a landmark Decision and Order (D&O) resolving petitions targeting several dozen streams in the East Maui area.   

In its 2018 D&O, the CWRM ordered full and natural flows to be restored to ten east Maui streams to protect natural habitats. An additional 12 streams had flows restored to 20-64% of their median base flow. CWRM identified three other streams where restoration of flows would not provide additional significant benefits.

The thirteen “streams” that were the subject of Tuesday’s verdict were not petitioned.

“Water is obviously fundamental to everyone. East Maui has a long and challenging past, but we’re dealing with the present and the future. The BLNR and CWRM have worked long and hard to meet their constitutional obligations and statutory mandates to protect our public trust resources and allow for sustainable use. Careful balancing is key,” said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case, who chairs both the BLNR and the CWRM.

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