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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 15, 2010

Maui biofuels could solve water issue

By haunani apoliona

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs welcomes the announcement by Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar and the federal government of a biofuels research partnership with the Department of Energy, Navy, and University of Hawai'i.

OHA has committed significant resources to support restoration of mauka-to-makai flow in Maui's Nā Wai 'Ehā ("The Four Waters"), which will benefit and safeguard these resources for all stakeholders. OHA views the partnership as an opportunity for a win-win resolution of the Central Maui water dispute.

Although your April 8 editorial uncritically adopted the HC&S argument that the dispute requires the state water commission to choose between stream flow and jobs, OHA believes that a balance between stream flow and retention of jobs is achievable. In fact, OHA believes that the availability of federal funding for HC&S's conversion to an energy farm can actually support restoration of Nā Wai 'Ehā without any job loss.

The lengthy Nā Wai 'Ehā case now pending before the water commission demonstrated that HC&S does not need to divert virtually the entire flow of Nā Wai 'Ehā streams to irrigate its Central Maui fields. HC&S acknowledged losing 25 percent of diverted water through leaky reservoirs and irrigation ditches, and according to the state's expert, HC&S overirrigates Central Maui fields by an average of 30 percent.

The unit cost to reduce HC&S' waste and pump from its non-potable wells (which it used throughout most of its history), is only a fraction of what other farmers pay for water.

OHA agrees that Hawai'i's plantation past is an important part of its heritage and has never advocated shutting down HC&S. The new taxpayer-funded biofuels partnership presents an opportunity for continuation of plantation jobs while providing for a more sustainable water future.

Federal funding makes possible both the conversion to less thirsty crops and modest investment in infrastructure that will allow tens of millions of gallons per day to be restored to Nā Wai 'Ehā streams rather than being wasted.

As a public resource, the waters of Nā Wai 'Ehā are held in trust by the state for the benefit of the people. Stream restoration will satisfy the rights of kuleana users and traditional and customary practitioners, restore stream and near-shore ecosystems, and recharge Central Maui's drinking water aquifers, allowing all to share in Nā Wai 'Ehā's wealth for generations to come.