Restoring Kawela Stream on Molokaʻi

On a site visit to Kawela stream, community leaders stand around stream diversion, as water flows downstream.

Kawela Stream, May 2022

Residents hui-ed up to form Molokaʻi Nō Ka Heke (which translates roughly as “Molokaʻi mo’ bettah”), and in July 2019, they, represented by nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, formally requested the Hawaiʻi Commission on Water Resources Management (Water Commission) to establish protective flow standards for Kawela and the other mountain streams and to prevent the diverter from draining Kawela beyond reasonable needs.

Over the course of several meetings in the first half of 2022, new information came to light, showing the diverter taking about nine times the amount of water needed to meet West Molokaʻi’s needs. So they decided that the full restoration of Kawela was the only reasonable course of action.

Highlights from the masterful grassroots effort to restore Molokai’s Kawela Stream:

“What was amazing to me was we all walked in with the same manaʻo,” said Leong. “We all knew at that point we had to pursue full restoration for Kawela. There was just no justification for the level of wastefulness.” The hui knew that Kawela was where their efforts could have the most beneficial impact.

On April 19, the Water Commission approved the highest stream flow standard ever adopted without a lawsuit, and went even further, requiring the return of all water to Kawela for at least six months while the diverter conducts a water system audit. On May 11, hui members visited the Kawela Dam with commission staff to witness the temporary restoration. In October, the commission expects to revisit the issue and consider making it permanent.

For many hui members, advocating to a government agency was a new experience. “This was my first time doing this,” said Heen. “Then to see it unfold…we changed things. We changed the whole course of it by coming in and saying this is what we want as a community based on what’s actually happening.”

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Restoring Molokaʻi’s Kawela Stream

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