Report: State official refused to release water to fight Lahaina fire until too late
With wildfires ravaging West Maui on Aug. 8, a state water official delayed the release of water that landowners wanted to help protect their property from fires. The water standoff played out over much of the day and the water didn't come until too late.
The dispute involved the Department of Land and Natural Resources' water resource management division and West Maui Land Co., which manages agricultural and residential subdivisions in West Maui as well as Launiupoko Irrigation Co., Launiupoko Water Co., Olowalu Water Co. and Ha'iku Town Water Association.
DLNR delayed releasing water requested by West Maui Land Co. to help prevent the spread of fire, sources familiar with the situation said.
Specifically, according to accounts of four people with knowledge of the situation, M. Kaleo Manuel, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and DLNR's deputy director for water resource management, initially balked at West Maui Land Co.'s requests for additional water to help prevent the fire from spreading to properties managed by the company.
According to the sources, Manuel wanted West Maui Land to get permission from a taro, or kalo, farm located downstream from the company's property. Manuel eventually released water but not until after the fire had spread. It was not clear on Monday how much damage the fire did in the interim or whether homes were damaged.
The devastation of the town of Lahaina was extensive.
Democrat Governor John Green promises an investigation in this and other issues with the official response, and noted:
... the governor said conflicts over water are being reshaped in an age of climate change and wildfires. Now the conflict includes opponents who do not want water to be used to fight fires, the governor said.
"One thing that people need to understand especially those from far away is that there's been a great deal of water conflict on Maui for many years," Green said. "It's important that we're honest about this. People have been fighting against the release of water to fight fires. I'll leave that to you to explore."
Two state senators from Maui submitted a bill in 2022 "to push DLNR to allow fresh water to be used to fight fires and pointed to West Maui as being particularly vulnerable."
The bill died without a hearing.
In Hawaii, the underlying issue is Native Hawaiians' discontent with the takeover of their homeland by outsiders, and this extends to issues of land ownership and water rights, as well as many other facets of life.
To the same or even a greater extent than California, Hawaii is a one-party state run by Democrats. Its governmental units are not known for their competence or efficiency.
Photo credit: YouTube screen grab.