The waters in this region are celebrated in mele and oli (songs and chants)—including the iconic hula entrance chant “Kūnihi ka Mauna” that recounts part of the goddess Hi‘iaka’s legendary journey between Hawai‘i and Kauaʻi, from lofty Maunakea to lush Wai‘ale‘ale. Today, the movement to reclaim these sacred places for future generations continues to grow.
For nearly 100 years, Līhu‘e Plantation drained Wai‘ale‘ale and Waikoko Streams dry. Although sugar production ended in 2000, Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) has continued to divert water to run its Waiahi hydro plants, two relics of the plantation era that generate less than one percent of the island’s electricity.
These streams are among the few upland tributaries accessible to the public for swimming, gathering, hi‘uwai (cleansing), and other community uses. Yet KIUC is pursuing a long-term water lease for its diversions that would perpetuate the hewa (wrong) for another 65 years.
Hui Ho‘opulapula Nā Wai o Puna, represented by Earthjustice, has been watchdogging the long-term lease process and participating in a contested case hearing to determine how much water must remain in the streams.
In August 2018, the state water commission held a public hearing on a staff proposal to let KIUC divert up to two-thirds of the flow from both streams. After a day of community testimony, the commissioners began considering whether to cap KIUC’s diversions at one-half of natural streamflow levels. KIUC then requested a contested case hearing, cutting off the commissioners’ discussion. The Hui responded with its own request to preserve the community’s rights. Recently, contested case proceedings were suspended so the water commission can reconsider its proposed streamflow restoration levels. On May 1, the Hui filed a lawsuit to end the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ practice of renewing KIUC’s one-year revocable water permit without first assessing the permit’s impacts on public trust water uses. The Hui’s fight to restore water to Wai‘ale‘ale and Waikoko Streams and hold the government accountable continues.