Although the Water Commission ordered water restored to some streams in 2018, it did not consider 13 other streams in Maui Hikina, and the Huelo area in particular. Later that year, the Sierra Club Hawai‘i Chapter (Sierra Club) challenged BLNR’s decision to issue A&B and Mahi Pono two annual revocable permits for 2018 and 2019 to continue diverting all the water from these 13 streams without any minimum protections or mitigation measures.
In August 2020, Hawai‘i’s Environmental Court gathered evidence in the case as part of the first virtual trial held over a two-and-a-half-week period. On April 6, 2021, Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree ruled in favor of the Board and A&B, concluding, “applying the applicable law…it was not unreasonable for the Board to balance these considerations as it did.” The court concurred with trial testimony that “supported the core concepts that keeping lands in agriculture benefited 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.” Although the court recognized that there is “no meaningful” protection of the 13 streams at issue, Judge Crabtree went on to acknowledge that A&B’s environmental impact statement, which at the time was in progress “will undoubtedly address impact[s] on habitat, and related modifications to or removal of diversion structures because of their impact on stream creatures.” Judge Crabtree also held that, “[g]iven these realities, the court concludes the Board was reasonable in deciding it had sufficient information to make what everyone expected would be a short-term decision.” Currently, the Sierra Club is appealing the court’s decision.
Moreover, there is an IIFS petition pending before the Water Commission to amend streamflow standards for a dozen of the remaining streams at issue. The parties, which include Sierra Club, A&B, and the Board, are also awaiting a subsequent and separate decision from the Board in a contested case hearing on the continuation of annual revocable permits for 2021 and 2022. In the interim, however, A&B and Mahi Pono are limited to diverting no more than 25 million of gallons a day from the streams in Maui Hikina. Follow the Sierra Club’s case here.
In the meantime, the Sierra Club is helping Maui Hikina families improve management decisions about their streams using citizen science. The “Eyes of the Streams” program is a volunteer-driven effort using traditional observational science, and state-of-the-art technology to quantify the impact of diversions on the quality of life for streams and all who depend on them.