An interview with Earthjustice’s Kapua Sproat and Isaac Moriwake about water issues in Hawai‘i.

Photos by John Hook

Artists Estria and Prime met with local lawyers Kapua Sproat and Isaac Moriwake of Honolulu’s Earthjustice branch to research what water struggles in Hawai‘i look like for Estria Foundation’s Water Writes mural in Kalihi. Beyond discussing traditional Hawaiian practices such as the ahupua‘a, they learned about the Na Wai ‘Eha case, a seven-year, ongoing fight backed by Earthjustice to restore stream flow to the “four great waters,” Maui county’s main water sources – Waihe‘e, ’Iao, North and South Waiehu, and Waikapu streams.

“This case epitomizes what’s going on in Hawai‘i,” says Kapua Sproat in the Honolulu Earthjustice office. “It’s emblematic of what’s happening in rural communities, in native Hawaiian communities, throughout Hawai‘i-nei. But it’s just the latest.”

Earthjustice and the Water Writes mural stress the importance of free-flowing water to traditional Hawaiian practices, farmers and local lifestyles. But, says Sproat, the need to regain full stream flow is just as important in terms of basic water resources for the entire state. “Water that flows from mountains to the oceans recharges our underground aquifers, which provides drinking water to Hawai‘i’s most populated communities. It’s all connected.”

Says Moriwake, “You see [the underground aquaifier issue] really starkly in the Na Wai ‘Eha case, actually. The Wailuku water company, a former plantation that sold off all of its farmlands and now maintains just its plantation ditch system, selling water to the county, to the people in Maui. These diversions result in ‘Iao Stream being completely dry. Were that water to flow, it would be recharging the very aquifer that the county of Maui relies on.”

Says Sproat: “HC&S [which merged with A&B in 1962] is the last of the plantation generation in Hawai‘i. And now, what’s becoming the legacy of these plantation interests is that they’re spinning off limited liability companies and marketing water. Public trust resources become individual companies’ private commercial gain. And that’s something that everybody should know about and should be concerned about. Because that’s a global phenomenon. That’s not just happening in Hawai‘i, that’s happening in South America, it’s happening in Africa, it’s happening all over.”

While Earthjustice and the communities it litigates for convinced an appointed water commissioner that companies should restore, at minimum, 50 percent of the streamflow to the rivers, the greater commission overturned this ruling, allowing for an under 20 percent return. The overturn occurred after A&B mobilized its workers and the unions, threatening to shut down in the wake of losing this portion of its water sources.

Earthjustice argues that the former plantation giant is using antiquated practices and equipment with low water-retaining qualities to store its water; that they overwater the few crops they continue to farm; and that they’re storing the water away to quickly support land development they may eventually pursue, to name a few (though the company insists that they want to keep the undeveloped land undeveloped).

At the time the mural was painted, ‘Iao Stream, home to the diversion dam represented in the top left corner of the Water Writes mural, was still being completely drained.

Learn more at www.restorestreamflow.org.