HB 1326- Stream Diversion Bill, Passes House Committee

Advocates stand with Rep. Tina Wildberger, South Maui District 11 Representative, after the hearing for hb 1326. Rep. Wildberger was the only Committee member to vote “no” on allowing unrestricted stream diversions to continue for another seven years.

Advocates stand with Rep. Tina Wildberger, South Maui District 11 Representative, after the hearing for hb 1326. Rep. Wildberger was the only Committee member to vote “no” on allowing unrestricted stream diversions to continue for another seven years.

HONOLULU, HAWAIʻI (February 11, 2019) -- Friday, the House Committee on Water, Land, and Hawaiian Affairs voted 5-to-1 in support of HB1326, which seeks to expand the temporary water diversion permits that were the source of immense controversy in 2016.

“Yep, here we go again,” said Marti Townsend. “Just as like HB2501 three years ago, this bill today favors wealthy corporations profiting at the expense of the people of Hawaiʻi by taking more than their fair share of water with no oversight and no accountability. There has been no substantive change in the three years since the last extension was passed.”

More than 600 people submitted written testimony, most in opposition, and more than a dozen people testified in person against the bill.  Many of these testifiers were from Kauaʻi and Maui, and suffer direct harm from the excessive diversion of streams in their communities.

“The level of injustice here is just outrageous,” said Nani Rogers, an elder Hawaiian activist from Kauaʻi.  “These diversions have been breaking the law -- and hurting our people, our neighbors -- for decades. We cannot build trust with each other and solve the problems we are facing, when we start with a hewa like this bill.”

Also testifying in opposition were the Environmental Caucus of the Democratic Party, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Earthjustice, Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action, Sierra Club, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, and Young Progressives Demanding Action.

HB1326 proposed to give diverters unlimited, unconditional permission to divert stream water indefinitely.  It was amended to reduce the time frame for unlimited diversions to 7 years, including authorization to continue diverting while permits are challenged in court.

Voting for the bill were: Committee Chairperson Ryan Yamane from Mililani, Vice Chair Chris Todd, and members Rep. Nicole Lowen, and Rep. David Tarnas, all from the Big Island, and Rep. Sharon Har, representing Kapolei. Rep. Thielen from Kailua/Kaneohe was absent and excused. Rep. Tina Wildberger from Maui was the sole no vote.

Testifying in support of the excessive stream diversions were major corporations and their supporters such as Mahi Pono (the new owner of A&B land in Central Maui), Grove Farms, the Hawaiʻi Crop Improvement Association, Land Use Research Foundation, Hawaiʻi Agriculture Research Corporation, and several chambers of commerce. There were no constituents at the hearing from the Big Island.

Former Lt. Governor-turned lobbyist, Shan Tsutsui testified on behalf of Mahi Pono in support of the bill.  When asked if Mahi Pono could support limitations on future stream diversions, Tsutsui did not commit. He only promised to read other bills, like HB848, that seek to share stream water more fairly.

Kauaʻi Island Utility Co-op and Grove Farms did not testify in person at the hearing.  KIUC diverts nearly all of Waiʻaleʻale stream for hydropower plants that produce 1% of the energy used on Kauaʻi before sending it to Grove Farms, who sells the water back to the county.  They have been diverting water on month-to-month permits for 15 years. No Environmental Impact Statement has been completed.

Several small farmers and ranchers also submitted testimony in support of the bill out of fear that current diversified agricultural efforts might be harmed by reduced stream diversions.

“It feels like the small farmers and ranchers that rely on relatively small amounts of water, often not sourced from streams, are being used as a cover for these large stream diverters that have been breaking the law for a very long time and are really damaging public streams and the communities that rely on them,” said Anne Frederick, Executive Director of the Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action.  “No one is against local food production and clean energy, we just want the streams to be protected and the water more fairly shared.”

Contact House Water, Land, and Hawaiian Affairs Committee members:

Chair Ryan Yamane: 808-586-6150, repyamane@capitol.hawaii.gov

Vice Chair Chris Todd: 808-586-8480, reptodd@capitol.hawaii.gov

Rep. Sharon Har: 808-586-8500, rephar@capitol.hawaii.gov

Rep. Nicole Lowen: 808-586-8400, replowen@capitol.hawaii.gov

Rep. David Tarnas: 808-586-8510, reptarnas@capitol.hawaii.gov

Rep. Tina Wildberger: 808-586-8525, repwildberger@capitol.hawaii.gov

Rep. Cynthia Thielen: 808-586-6480, repthielen@capitol.hawaii.gov

Link to HB1326 testimony

Link to additional information on WaiForAll.com