Opinion: Maui’s fresh water, a public trust

Danielle Morton, Staff Writer

Do you ever wonder where your shower, sink, and hose water comes from? If you guessed that it’s from our fresh water supply on the island, then you’re right. Although that may sound just to some, the island of Maui has been in a drought for decades due to the diversion of the freshwater from our island.

In the 1800s, when the sugar industry began in Sovereign Hawai’i, the sugar cane crop required a lot of water for it to thrive in the perfect climate on Maui. Without any second thoughts about the well-being of Maui’s ecosystem, the foreigners began to strategize an irrigation system to divert water from Maui’s natural streams and funnel it directly to their crops. Hawai’i Cane and Sugar Company (HC&S), to this day, diverts the natural water flow, and pours over 200 million gallons of water onto their crops daily.

East Maui Irrigation (EMI) is a partner of HC&S and Wailuku Water Company (WWC). WWC and EMI locate the water aquifer in the mountain and build irrigation ditches over the natural river beds so that they can divert the water into tanks, which allows the water to be sold and distributed to households, schools, businesses, restaurants, hotels, and sugar cane. Together, they target East and West Maui rivers.

What is the big deal you ask? Before contact, West Maui had 223 rivers that ran all the way from the mountain to the ocean. That mauka (mountain) to makai (ocean) water flow would hydrate all the land on its way down the mountain and clean the shorelines and offshore, create a current that would cleanse the aquatic life, and prevent erosion. Currently on West Maui, there are only two rivers that run from the mountain to the ocean.

The victims of this unnatural crisis are the Hawaiian people living in valleys which used to have a running water flow from the mountain which they depend on to drink, to water their crops, and to filter and hydrate their lo’is, a wet garden bed dug in the ground for farming kaalo or taro. This lack of fresh water hits these people hard and the people who live domestically don’t have any worries or even knowledge of what is going on regarding this subject.

What can you do to help? Although the restoration of the natural water flow is completely in the hands of the government, every resident of this island—no matter if you just moved here, if you were born and raised here, or if you’re a native Hawaiian—can support this movement simply by being aware of its existence.

Spread the word about how limited our water is on this island. Next time you take an hour-long shower because you’re stressed out, think about the Hawaiians who are devastatingly stressed that their water is gone and out of their hands to return the natural flow to save their land and livelihoods.