On Tuesday August 8, 2023, massive wildfires raged through the historic town of Lahaina in the heart of Maui KomohanaThis tragic disaster was over a century in the making. 

Black and white photo of trees, palms, and brush near ponds of freshwater

Lahaina was hailed by early Europeans as the “Venice of the Pacific” because of the well-managed loko ‘ia (fishpond) that surrounded the town center. Photo Credit: https://www.mauimagazine.net/maluulu-o-lele-park-history/

Excessive water diversions by plantations and land developers had turned Lahaina, a once vibrant and productive wetland community known as the “Venice of the Pacific,” into a desert overrun by highly flammable invasive grasses.  More than a century of water and land mismanagement set the conditions for the most devastating wildfire in Hawaii’s history  

Maui Komohana communities have been organizing for decades to restore their waters. From the south, where Aunty Victoria Kaluna Palafox and her ʻohana maintain lo‘i kalo along Ukumehame Stream on ancestral lands, to the north where the community organization Nā Mamo Aloha ‘Āina o Honokōhau restores Kānaka Maoli traditional lifeways in Honokōhau Valley, communities are returning the beauty of ʻāina and wai to Maui Komohana.

Like many places throughout Hawaiʻi, corporate business ventures, resorts, and expanding urban sprawl have upended kamaʻāina communities and natural ecosystems for generations. In the last century, increasingly larger diversions throttled stream flows needed for kalo farming. Farms failed. New generations moved away. Society as it had once been ceased.

But enough people have sustained traditional culture and values in Hawai’i, so that now the tide of

group photo Ka Malu O Kahalawai

Thanks to the hardwork of Ka Malua O Kahalawai, the community comes together to re-open lo’i kalo at Kahoma. Photo credit: Bianca Isaki

history is turning.  Today, the return to ʻohana-based ʻāina stewardship and return stream flows have reverberated throughout Maui Komohana. In Honokōhau, Nā Mamo Aloha ʻĀina o Honokōhau, is working to reestablish the abundance of the early 20th century, when over over 4,000 lo‘i once covered over 50 acres of this historic valley.

In Kahoma, water protectors Ka Malu o Kahālāwai restored streamflow and celebrated opening loʻi kalo and growing our people’s staple in the valley for the first time in 130 years.

These communities shoulder the kuleana of challenging plantation-era water diversions and tourist resort developments to ensure the pono use of wai. For example, in response to corporate diverters dumping excess water diverted from Honokōhau Stream into fields at Honokōwai, Nā Mamo Aloha ‘Āina o Honokōhau teamed up with Ka Malu o Kahālāwai to bring a legal complaint against the waste. They continue to push for enforcement measures against excessive diversion of Honokōhau Stream.

Kahoma work day

Community workday hosted by Ka Maul o Kahalawai to re-open ancient lo’i kalo of Kahoma. Photo credit: Bianca Isaki

In Kauaula Valley, kuleana tenants struggle against encroaching water uses by multimillion dollar mansions and transient vacation rentals. ʻOhana in Kauaʻula have been fighting against the dewatering of their historic ʻauwai contrary to Hawai‘i Supreme Court rulings extending back to 1895. They have taken this battle to the Public Utilities Commission to defend their water rights.

With the help of allies across Maui, Hawai‘i nei, and beyond, Maui Komohana communities continue the practices of their ʻohana and kūpuna to work to hoʻi ka nani – to return beauty and to return wai to ‘āina spanning Honokōhau, Honolua, Honokōwai, Kahoma, Kanahā, Kauaula, Launiupoko, Olowalu, and Ukumehame.

  • 1842-47

    Historic Piʻilani ʻAuwai, named for King Piʻilani who ruled Maui in the 1400s, is modified into the Lahainaluna Ditch to serve Lahainaluna School.

  • 1895

    Hawaiʻi Supreme Court in Horner v. Kumuliʻiliʻi upholds Kānaka Maoli water rights against increasing plantation water demands.  The court requires an 11-day rotation system to share water for all lands in Kauaula Valley.

  • 1960s

    Tourist resort destinations begin construction on Kāʻanapali lands.

  • 2003

    ʻOhana in Kauaula negotiate a settlement under which the kuleana tenants receive water free of charge through a delivery system operated by West Maui Land’s subsidiary, the Launiupoko Irrigation Company (LIC).

  • July 2017

    After 130 years, Ka Malu o Kahālāwai restores loʻi kalo in Kahoma Valley.

  • November 2018

    The Water Commission establishes interim instream flow standards or Kahoma and Kanahā streams and orders restoration of Kauaula Stream, but LIC refuses to comply with the commission’s order.

  • May 2021

  • 1860

    Pioneer Mill is formed.

  • 1904

    Pioneer Mill constructs the Honolua-Honokōhau Ditch (later rebuilt in 1913), which averages a flow of 50-70 million gallons per day.

  • 1999

    Pioneer Mill closes down, ending an era of sugar plantation in Maui Komohana.

  • March 2018

    The State Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM or Water Commission), on its own initiative without litigation, establishes instream flow standards for Ukumehame, Olowalu, Launiupoko, and Kauaʻula Streams.

  • September 2018

    After LIC refuses to comply with the IIFS for Kauaʻula Stream, the Water Commission considers updates on implementation.

  • April 2019

    Ka Malu o Kahālāwai and West Maui Preservation Association file a Water Wasting Complaint against Maui Land & Pine for dumping water diverted from Honokōhau Stream.