Plan for water, land use before it's too late
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Watchers of the political process usually hope to see the pace of government work pick up rather than slow down. But with so many demands on Hawai'i's diminishing water and land resources, the need to stop and think about how we're using them has become paramount.
While the call for "more study" usually elicits a weary groan from voters, neither can anyone support speeding off into the future without first consulting a roadmap. Unfortunately, that is what's happened too often with land-use decisions in recent years: It's been all crisis management all the time, while comprehensive land-use plans have gathered dust on the shelf.
State lawmakers realize this, at least superficially, and for that reason a group called the Sustainability Task Force embarked on the "Hawai'i 2050" campaign to convene communities and forge a plan guiding decisionmakers through the years ahead.
Ah, planning. Remember that?
Back in the 1970s, when Hawai'i was still wet behind the ears as the 50th state, the administration of Gov. George Ariyoshi developed a master plan for the state, with 12 subsidiary "functional plans" guiding agriculture, conservation, education, energy, higher education, health, historic preservation, housing, recreation, tourism, transportation and water resources.
The more recent "sustainability" push, fortunately, has involved pulling these plans off the shelf for a look.
Naturally, it's going to take more of a dusting-off to move comprehensive plans forward three decades. Some things remain the same: Tourism remains the economic centerpiece, and today's call for alternative energy had already sounded back then.
But new realities have emerged on several fronts. For example, few anticipated then the hope that would be placed in life-sciences research as an engine for jobs. And although water management has been identified as a pressing need for years, time is now running out for control measures.
The clock is ticking especially loudly on O'ahu, where the Honolulu Board of Water Supply has projected that by around 2015, all the water sources available for development will have been tapped.
Water resources are not given nearly the attention that's necessary when housing projects and other urban developments are considered. And when the discussion turns to agriculture — in the current excitement over ethanol production, for instance — the issue of water has not been central.
State Rep. Della Au Belatti, D-25th District (Makiki, Tantalus), introduced House Bill 1891, partly out of fear that important agricultural lands will be gobbled up before anyone considers the impact on other potential land uses.
The measure would bar the state from reclassifying agricultural land until the Land Use Commission identifies which acreage is important to fulfill agricultural needs.
This measure does not seem likely to pass, judging by the way House leadership has referred it to multiple committees. And it's too broad to be practical in that it would tie up some critical decision-making over some agricultural lands known to be marginal.
Nevertheless, it offers an important talking point: What does the state want to do with its agricultural land to achieve its various goals? Where should housing be built, and is there enough water to support any of these plans?
That's why the House should at least schedule the measure for a hearing so that the conversation on these planning issues can begin.
Senate President Colleen Hanabusa has been a cheerleader for the Hawai'i 2050 sustainability planning process, and she identified the main purpose for drawing up these idealistic blueprints: They help us commit to projects that advance us toward our goals.
She described land-use planning as a tool for setting these goals and for rewarding projects that we believe serve our future.
That's absolutely right — and it means we have to allot the time to think about what we want for this state. Otherwise, we'll end up having our options dictated to us by whatever resources — just by chance — are left.