As the Maui wildfire raged last week, a state water agency in Hawaii has been accused of stalling the release of water from a traditional farm, which landowners reportedly wanted to use to safeguard their property.
A state agency in Hawaii has come under fire for its response to the Maui wildfire last week amid allegations that it delayed the release of water that could have been used to protect properties at risk from the spreading flames. The accusations stem from a reported refusal by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) to provide water from a traditional farm, in response to a request from West Maui Land, a real estate development company, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat.
The criticism has focused on one official in particular, M. Kaleo Manuel, DLNR’s deputy director for water resource management. Manuel is a participant in the Obama Foundation’s Leaders Asia-Pacific program and is known for prioritizing traditional local perspectives on water management.
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.
Honolulu Civil Beat reported:
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.
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.
Honolulu Civil Beat quoted Governor Josh Green (D) as saying that there had been some local resistance to using the state’s limited water resources to combat fires. Notably, a state bill introduced in 2022 by legislators from Maui, advocating for the use of state and private reservoirs for fire safety, failed to pass.
Other state institutions are also under scrutiny in the wake of the wildfire, particularly Hawaiian Electric. The utility company has been accused of emphasizing climate change and renewable energy initiatives at the expense of addressing the risk of wildfires.