According to the Hawaii official who delayed access to water during the Maui wildfires, "true conversations about equity" are required for such access.
M. Kaleo Manuel, former deputy director of the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management, described water as a sacred god in a livestream debate hosted by the University of Hawaii last year.
"Let water connect us and not divide us," Manuel said, referring to water distribution on the island. "We can share it, but it requires true conversations about equity. ... How do we coexist with the resources that we have?"
Manuel waited for more than five hours to release water during the wildfires that killed at least 110 people and devastated Maui last week, according to published reports.
In an Aug. 10 letter to Manuel obtained by Honolulu Civil Beat, West Maui Land Co. said that his commission denied its request to divert water from streams to fill landowners' reservoirs for firefighters' use in the Lahaina area until the wildfires raged out of control.
West Maui Land Co. manages three of West Maui's water providers, according to Newsweek.
"We watched the devastation around us without the ability to help," West Maui Land Co. executive Glenn Tremble wrote. "We anxiously awaited the morning knowing that we could have made more water available to MFD [Maui Fire Department] if our request had been immediately approved."
Sources told the Honolulu Civil Beat that Manuel had asked the company to inquire with a local farmer first to check how a diversion of the water supply would affect him.
The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) defended Manuel in a statement on Wednesday and said he was being transferred to another position within the department.
"The purpose of this deployment is to permit CWRM [Commission on Water Resource Management] and the Department to focus on the necessary work to assist the people of Maui recover from the devastation of wildfires," the statement said. "This deployment does not suggest that First Deputy Manuel did anything wrong. DLNR encourages the media and the public to avoid making judgments until all the facts are known."
Hawaii reportedly has a long history of conflict between local Native Hawaiian communities and landowners over water, which Gov. Josh Green brought up after the fires.
"One thing that people need to understand, especially those from far away, is that there's been a great deal of water conflict on Maui for many years," Green said during a press conference on Monday. "It's important that we're honest about this. People have been fighting against the release of water to fight fires. I'll leave that to you to explore.
"We have a difficult time on Maui and other rural areas getting enough water for houses, for our people, for any response," he continued. "But it's important we start being honest. There are currently people still fighting in our state giving us water access to fight and prepare for fires even as more storms arise."
Nicole Wells ✉
Nicole Wells, a Newsmax general assignment reporter covers news, politics, and culture. She is a National Newspaper Association award-winning journalist.
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