Environmental Law Clinic Assists Over 80 Maui Families

D. Kapua Sproat, Assistant Professor

During the Fall Semester 2008, the William S. Richardson School of Law’s Environmental Law Clinic took on a monumental project involving the State Water Commission’s “designation” of Na Wai ‘Eha, Maui, as the first-ever Surface Water Management Area in Hawai‘i’s history.  Na Wai ‘Eha refers to Waihe‘e River and Waiehu, ‘Iao, and Waikapu streams in Central Maui.  Na Wai ‘Eha’s streams are both culturally and biologically significant, and are the major source of fresh water to support native stream life, productive estuaries and fisheries, traditional agriculture including cultivation of the Hawaiian staple kalo, and to recharge drinking water supplies for Maui’s most populated communities.  Yet, for the last 150 years, these streams have been drained dry to subsidize plantation agriculture, especially sugar cane cultivation.

Due to serious conflicts over water use, the Water Commission designated Na Wai ‘Eha a Surface Water Management Area in April 2008.  Designation is a necessary first step in controlling water use.  Although the Water Commission is responsible for managing all of Hawai‘i’s water resources, it has administrative control through water use permitting in designated water management areas only.  Therefore, absent designation, the Water Commission has only limited control over surface water use.  Many surface waters have been proposed for designation over the years, but Na Wai ‘Eha was the first to actually be designated. 

As a result of the Water Commission’s action, Na Wai ‘Eha is now under the Water Commission’s direct management, triggering a permit requirement for any diversion, impoundment, or consumptive use of water from streams or springs in this area.  Due to the complexity of this legal process, the Environmental Law Clinic was asked to assist community members in completing permit applications.

With a grant from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, law students prepared handouts and other supporting materials and flew to Maui in October 2008 to facilitate a community meeting with over 100 individuals.  The students did a power point presentation and briefed community members about the permitting process.  Anyone interested in receiving assistance from the Clinic was asked to sign up.  Students spent the rest of the weekend meeting with individuals and gathering information.  The students made several more trips to Maui during the Fall Semester 2008 to gather supporting information and to prepare the actual permit applications. 

As the semester drew to a close, many of the students elected to continue working on the project.  Some did directed studies, while others decided to fulfill their pro bono requirements.  During the Spring Semester 2009, many of the students continued assisting individuals and families, making multiple trips to Maui to gather info, then flying back to Maui in April 2009 to review completed applications with the community members.

A number of individuals with expertise in this area made invaluable contributions.  The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and Jason Jeremiah in particular, provided supporting documentation, including maps and Māhele documents to establish that lands were historically in kalo cultivation.  Given her significant experience in this area and with the kuleana water systems in particular, Koalani Kaulukukui volunteered a tremendous amount of time to assist with this project.  Josie Ah-Ching masterminded preparation of the applications for filing.  Many others assisted in myriad ways, but their contributions are too numerous to detail individually.

With everyone’s kokua, the Environmental Law Clinic was able to assist approximately 80 families in Na Wai ‘Eha, many of whom filed multiple permit applications.  Mahalo piha to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for their generous support, to the community members who housed and fed the students and volunteers during their multiple trips, and to the students and volunteers themselves who went above and beyond the call of duty to provide legal services to communities in need.  Special recognition to:  Julian Aguon, Josie Ah-Ching, Jim and Roselle Bailey, Kate Bryant-Greenwood, Pam Bunn, Kee Campbell, Erica Chee, Jocelyn Doane, John V. and Rose Marie H. Duey, Rachel Figueroa, Sunny Greer, Jodi Higuchi, Kalā Hoe, Jason Jeremiah, Keith Johnston, Koalani Kaulukukui, Ryan Keesey, Mana Moriarty, Isaac Moriwake, Nat Noda,Everett Ohta, the Pellegrino ‘Ohana, Lukas Shield, Lei Smith, Sean Smith, Wayne Tanaka, and George White.

Environmental Law Clinic Pictures - Maui