Contentious Hawai‘i ‘Water Theft Bill’ Dies in Committee
UPDATE: April 8, 11:43 a.m.
House of Representatives Speaker Scott K. Saiki released the following statement on the Water Rights Bill.
“The report that the House leadership is pressuring the Senate to advance HB 1326 during its floor session is not true. At this point, it is entirely up to the Senate leadership to determine how it wants to proceed. Whatever the leadership decides, it is important that the Legislature be civil and reasoned, rather than divisive.”
ORIGINAL POST: April 5, 10:15 a.m.
The Senate Committee on Ways and Means moved to defer the “Water Theft Bill,” HB 1326, indefinitely on April 4, 2019, according to a Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi press release issued on April 5.
This surprising move by Committee Chair Donovan Dela Cruz followed the Committee on Water and Land’s vote to pass the bill with amendments. The bill was being considered in a joint committee hearing and a division in votes results in the bill not advancing.
“With this historic vote, lawmakers restored protections for Hawaiʻi’s streams and people’s faith in our democracy,” said Marti Townsend, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi. “I hope this vote is a sign that we are moving past the days of Alexander & Baldwin pocketing immense profit off the public’s water, while streams ran dry and the people of East Maui and Kauaʻi suffered.”
Prior to the deferral, Water and Land Chair Kai Kahele and his committee voted to pass a new version of the bill that would protect water used by small farmers and ranchers but prohibit Alexander & Baldwin from continuing their stream diversions that had been invalidated in the First Circuit Court in 2016.
“We are grateful for Sen. Kahele’s dedication to making this bill into the best version it could be and taking a strong stand for Hawaiʻi’s streams and the lives that depend on them,” said Townsend. “His proposed amendments were thoughtful and truly put people over corporations.”
During the public hearing on Tuesday, this bill received more than 1,000 pieces of testimony and nearly six hours of public testimony. As senators questioned agency officials and water users at the hearing, many of the fear tactics used to justify the bill were debunked. It was made clear that water used by Upcountry Maui residents was not in jeopardy if this bill did not pass. Also, the small farmers of Kauaʻi and ranchers of Kaʻū were also not barred from receiving new temporary permits, so their access to water is not interrupted by the failure to pass HB1326.
In decision making on the bill yesterday, senators continued to question the Department of Land and Natural Resources about the department’s fault in processing long-term lease requests but also questioned Alexander and Baldwin, which had not been done in the bill’s previous hearing. Sens. Kahele (Hilo) and Clarence Nishihara (Mililani) pressed the corporation about the recent sale of their old sugar plantation in Central Maui. Their line of questions made clear that A&B should have never included Hawaiʻi’s public trust waters in the $262 million land deal. By the terms of the sales agreement, if A&B can no longer divert at least 30 million gallons of water a day from East Maui streams, then it owes the new buyer, Mahi Pono, a rebate of $62 million.
HB 1326, which sought to extend temporary water diversion permits for Alexander and Baldwin, is one of the most contentious bills of the 2019 Legislative Session. In the few weeks remaining in this year’s legislative session, it is still possible for lawmakers to pass a bill that could accomplish the goals of HB1326.