Thursday, December 8, 2016

Musings: Water Wars

In their latest strike against Hawaii agriculture, activists are mounting an attack on Alexander & Baldwin's request for a one-year holdover water permit on Maui.

Though the activists are trying to make it all about A&B, the water system also serves Kula farmers and some 36,000 Upcountry Maui residential users, as well as 30,000 acres of A&B ag land in Central Maui.
The proposal will be heard by the Board of Land and Natural Resources at its Honolulu meeting on Friday.

At issue is whether A&B will be able to keep using water under a year-by-year holdover permit as it seeks a longer-term water license and transitions HC&S out of sugar and into diversified ag.

The BLNR action is in line with Act 126, a hotly contested law the state Legislature passed in response to a Circuit Court ruling that found the state's revocable water permit system was illegal. Act 126 allows revocable permit holders to keep using water under no more than three one-year holdover permits while the state processes their water license applications.

So though the BLNR action is essentially a housekeeping measure that continues the status quo while A&B goes through the water license process, activists are now trying to fight the Act 126 battle all over again. They are even using the exact same messaging in their call to action for the BLNR hearing as they employed in rallying folks to testify at the Lege:


If passed, this bill would allow commercial users to divert millions of gallons of public water per day and avoid protections for both Hawaiian and public water interests indefinitely, with no limitations on the amount or duration of the diversion.

Except the facts are actually this: There are indeed limits on the amount and duration of the diversion, and protections for Hawaiian and public water interests remain fully intact.

But hey, the first rule of activism is this: Don't let the facts get in the way of some good fear-mongering.

Though activists are framing the debate as seizing a public trust resource from corporate control, their actions could serve to undermine the expansion of diversified ag, which they claim to want, and accelerate development, which they supposedly don't want.

About 23,000 acres of A&B land in Central Maui have been designated as Important Ag Lands (IAL). But one requirement of an IAL designation is the availability of water. So if activists succeed in derailing A&B's holdover water permit, the company could make a strong case for pulling the land out of the IAL, thus opening the door for the development.

Activists are also claiming that A&B doesn't need the water because it has wells. But their wells produce brackish water that some crops can't tolerate.

Meanwhile, HC&S — Hawaii's last sugar plantation — is set to close on Dec. 12. As the fields are no longer cultivated, Central Maui is getting brown — and it will get a lot browner if there's no water.
I never thought I'd see the day when people were actually celebrating the demise of a major agricultural operation in Hawaii. Every other plantation closure has been mourned.

But people like Terez Amato Lindsey and others are actually cheering over this sad event, which will put hundreds of people out of work and have reverbations through the larger Maui economy:
Though Lindsey and others are saying A&B shouldn't get the water because it doesn't yet have a “firm plan” for how it's going to transition HC&S into diversified ag, they remain utterly clueless about the difficulty of finding economically viable uses for thousands of acres of farm land.

An article in Maui Now describes the challenges A&B is facing as it grows trial crops of corn, soybeans, sorghum and sunflowers. These ranged from strong winds that toppled young plants to insect and bird damage and destruction by wild pigs.

As Jerrod Schreck, who is part of the HC&S diversified ag trials team, noted:

So what’s important now is to understand how much it costs to grow these crops, what the actual yields are, and what inputs are required so we can determine if it can be a sustainable business.

We’re just trying to prove the irrigation, prove the concept, test the pest impacts, and if it makes sense, then we’ll scale up from there, but before we go commercial, I would expect to see a large scale block rotation that could be a year or more in length.

Agriculture is a business, which means it has to make economic and practical sense.

But since the anti-ag activists have never actually grown anything, they have no idea of what it takes to keep agriculture healthy and viable. Instead, they attack it on every front, even as they claim to support farming.

You just can't have it both ways. 

No water = no farms. No farms = no food and fuel. The end of ag = more resort uses and gentrification. It really is that simple.


Anonymous said...

How hard is it to understand that if Hawaii wants green open space and productive farms to give us a chance at food self-sufficiency, you've got to have water.

With all this misplaced anti-corporate, anti-everything activism, the biggest farm in Hawaii---that has already dedicated its land to remaining in ag, has absolutely NO guarantee that it will have water availability so that it can irrigate its tens of thousands of desert-like acres.

People don't have to pick sides, there is water for streams AND for farming. Let's make wise decisions!

Anonymous said...

Funny how history repeats itself. Remember when Cal, Berkeley was the hot bed of activism and protest. Seems like it has changed venue to Hawaii a generation later. Only difference is that here we have movements against everything without fully knowing the ramifications as you always set forth in your writings. At Berkeley, there were critical thinkers; unfortunately, we don't have that here.

Anonymous said...

Very well said! The fact is that we have enough water to support both. Here on Kauai we are presently using only a fraction of the water that the plantations used for agriculture but that doesn't stop the "let's put all of the water back in the streams" faction from trying to scare the public.

Anonymous said...

Mahalo Joan for the update on this.

As a long time Maui resident, it is truly sad to see the end of green fields for MILES in many directions. The green waving leaves swaying in the winds will be a memory all too soon.

One glimmer of hope is that at least one area of HC&S land is being put back in AG use right now. There is a small area near the Kuihelani Hwy and Honoapi'ilani Hwy junction that has been plowed, irrigated and now has crops growing (not sure what kind). This looks to be the work of hard working LOCAL farmers that I have seen in the field. Not sure if other HC&S areas upcountry are doing the same but it does raise hopes that active farming will continue on these AG lands.

Anonymous said...

Maui Tomorrow had an early era where they were a constructive voice to bring together community on local planning issues. In the current era they have sided with leaving water in streams and leave the central plain dry and dusty. They should change their name to Maui Yesterday. They clearly are confused about where the Public Trust lies today since very few folks on Maui ever hear or see these streams flow and the bulk of the populations lies in and the central valley where green growth, new ag production and dust control are foremost in their minds.

Anonymous said...

What good is fresh water into the ocean? Fresh water is most useful in farming. Crops need water. Cattle need water. We need water. How is it that a few loud mouths dictate for the rest of us? They not even the smartest people. All it is their loud mouth. Put them on the Farm, you would hear their loud mouths grumbling about how hard work is on the Farm. Put them on the Horse, you would hear their loud mouths grumbling about how hard work is on the Ranch. Put them in the river so their loud mouths can swallow all the fresh water they like.

Anonymous said...

Joan, why do you lump all activists into one big monolith of undesirables, regardless of the issue?

Anonymous said...

You fakahz on Kauai are next!

Drug ring targeted in massive police operation across Oahu
Lynn Kawano
Dec 8, 2016 07:00 PM
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Eighteen suspected drug dealers were arrested early Wednesday as part of a large-scale police operation scattered across Oahu.

Officials said the arrests were aimed at crippling Hawaii's methamphetamine market.

Hawaii News Now was at four of the scenes just before sunrise as heavily armed law enforcement officers from HPD, the FBI, Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, DEA and ATF converged on suspects.

Anonymous said...

They had already pop the guys and gals a few weeks ago on Kauai before this recent bust in Oahu. So you mean Maui and the Big island is next. I heard the God Father is on the Big Island.

Marjorie Ziegler said...

A&B has approx. 120 mgd as an alternative source, not all of which is brackish. It has ground and surface water from its fee simple land. There are no alternatives to streamflows for the East Maui folks, who, by the way, are also farmers and who are willing to share, but no can share a dry stream! They are good, solid people. Please do not vilify them.

Joan Conrow said...

Marjorie, it's my understanding that A&B has been returning water to the streams as it phases out sugar. Furthermore, it anticipates returning even more water to the streams because diversified ag won't require as much water as sugar. So I'm not sure the claims of "dry stream" are really true any more. Also, I have not vilified the East Maui farmers. I'm calling out groups like HAPA and Sierra Club, and people like Terez, who aren't farmers, and who exaggerate and fabricate to push an agenda that has no place for any large farms.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know HAPA was also involved in the water fight? If true looks like Hooser has his little fist in more than just GMO?