Protecting the Environment for Future Generations

Our “Rights” vs. Our Responsibilities to Future Generations

Part of’s busy spring schedule focused on testifying at the  Hawaiian legislature in support of environmental issues and following up with written documentation as necessary. Some of the highlights are listed below.

1. Stopping the Blood Ivory Market in Hawaii.
One of these bills, SB2647 HD 1, which we also strongly supported, was passed by the legislature. It will stop the lucrative blood ivory market and related land and marine wildlife trafficking in Hawaii for which the islands are well known.

2. Protecting Hawaii’s Water Resources as a Public Trust
Under Hawaii law water is a public trust for the people. No one owns water and we all should use it more wisely and not waste it.

Sugarcane, which is one of the thirstiest crops, was planted throughout much of the island as the #1 crop by the descendants of missionaries because of its great financial gains. It is a deep-rooted crop that draws heavily on groundwater reserves and uses about 3x more water than wheat and about 5x more water than potatoes. However, raising livestock for cattle and beef may exceed the average water needs of sugarcane. Given these facts, the extensive sugarcane production that started almost 150 years ago in Maui by Alexander and Baldwin (A&B) required the diversion of huge amounts of water from State-owned watersheds in East Maui via the Hamakua Ditch, first constructed in 1876, to the dry lowlands below. Its present system of ditches, tunnels, pipes and flumes can presently potentially divert perhaps up to 450 million gallons of water per day from State-owned watersheds in North and East Maui. While A&B’s original leases to such water has long expired, it is believed that the company will attempt to do everything in its power to hang on to these now non-permitted water leases for still undisclosed future development even after its extensive water needs have come to an end along with the phasing out of its remaining sugarcane operations in 2016. Water is power.

After years of court rulings in favor of the public pertaining to water use was largely ignored by the State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and landowners benefitting from business as usual, Judge Rhonda Nishimura ruled in January of 2016 against DLNR and A&B on water permits. She ruled that DLNR’s issuance of the one-year revocable permits between 2001 and 2014 to A&B without official environmental reviews was unlawful and violated State law as they were only meant to be temporary. Her ruling invalidated the standard practice of issuing water permits to A&B to divert between 40 to 137 million gallons of water/day from East Maui’s Nahiku and Huelo streams to irrigate 36,000 acres of sugar cane land (and provide water to 36,000 residents and farmers as claimed by County officials).

While A&B’s last Hawaii sugarcane plantations will be closing down by the end of 2016, the company tried its best to circumvent the judge’s ruling and hold onto its non-permitted diversion of water. It went to the legislature and pushed to pass HB2501 crafted for A&B to hold onto its water leases and “to allow DLNR to authorize the holdover of previously authorized water rights leases during presidency of the application to renew the lease.” Needless to say, the bill passed despite the strong and often emotional testimony of water rights experts, environmentalists and affected native Hawaiian farmers.

However, the public outcry about the passage of the bill was not in vain. DLNR is now taking the first steps of complying with Judge Nishimura’s ruling by ordering A&B to begin the EIS process for its request for the need for future water permits as a plan for sustainable agriculture has to be submitted indicating necessary water needs and the impacts of water diversion on natural ecosystem.

3. Expanding the PAPAHANAUMOKUAKEA Marine National Monument
Another vital issue, still ongoing, is supporting the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii from 50 to 200 miles through an Executive Order/Presidential Proclamation by President Obama. It would be one of the boldest, most far-sighted and most cost-effective decisions of the Obama presidency in protecting fragile environmental resources and at the same time ensuring food security for generations to come.

In written testimony to President Obama, stated that expanding the Monument will allow nature to heal itself even without the input of large additional management and research allocations. We can expect that within the next 10-15 years the Monument’s ocean wildlife will again turn into nature’s ocean fish farm like old time Native Hawaiians still remember it and, irrespective of Climate Change, will also again support a threatened seabird population. Within just a generation, commercial fishing beyond the 200-mile limit will provide bountiful harvests instead of further collapse of the commercial fishing industry as is expected if no action is taken. Instead of the ocean’s harvest being largely only available to the more affluent as the trend is now, it will again be within financial reach of everyone. Signature collection in support of the Marine Monument’s expansion is ongoing with hundreds of signatures collected to date. also testified at the contentious OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs) Board of Trustees meeting on 5-26-2016 in support of the Monument’s expansion. During the over three hours of oral testimony, visionary Native Hawaiians who had personally witnessed the decline of the ocean‘s bountiful resources during a lifetime on the seas, and strongly supported by staff, raised the issue of rights vs. responsibilities to future generations in finally convincing the Trustees to support the expansion over the strong objections of the commercial fishing industry, especially its long-liners and some Native Hawaiians who objected to the expansion, fearing that their inherent rights would be curtailed through the required permitting process. also supported the request that OHA become part of the management team of the expanded Monument. The expansion of the Marine Sanctuary will also continue to open the door for future employment of Native Hawaiians with science-based college degrees.