Hawaii’s overtourism is compounding current water issues on Maui

On July 6, former Hawaii State Representative Kaniela Ing posted on Twitter, “Stop coming to Hawaii. They treat us like second class citizens, literally cutting us off the water to feed the excessive tourism. “

The request, which included screenshots of news reports that tourist arrivals would overwhelm Maui by 2022, went viral. It also linked overtourism to the water scarcity in Upcountry Maui, where residents are prohibited from watering lawns, washing cars, watering, and engaging in other non-essential activities that could result in a $ 500 fine.

Maui visitors have now surpassed pre-pandemic numbers, inspiring Ing – as well as hundreds of other residents in the area – to post on social media to draw attention to disrespectful visitors who are treating the island like an amusement park. The posts include angry cries of protest against the endangerment of wildlife, geotagging of sacred land, hiking on private property, and overcrowding that diminishes the quality of life. In one case, a mother got into traffic in two hours while trying to rush her son to the hospital after learning that ambulances were not available.

Stop coming to Hawaii. They treat us like second class citizens by literally cutting us off the water to feed the excessive tourism. pic.twitter.com/MbCcvU9Yc9

– Kaniela Ing (@KanielaIng) July 7, 2021

“We have resorts in Wailea, Kaanapali that” [are] Use water to fill their pool, but we will ask our residents to restrict the water, ”Travis Polido, president of the Waikapu Community Association, said at a recent Board of Water Supply meeting. “Let the recording show that it is not right.”

Resentment towards the tourism industry has reached a fever – especially now as COVID-19 numbers are rising rapidly and resources are becoming scarce for locals.

Last month’s water restrictions have only exposed deeper differences, reminding many that tourism is only the tip of the iceberg. Many local citizens, especially native Hawaiians, believe that their needs are taking a back seat to the extractive industries.

Jeffrey Pearson, director of the Department of Water Supply, explained at the meeting that systems that supply water to hotels are not physically connected to those that supply water to residents of the upcountry.

But Ing, the leader of the climate justice campaign for grassroots organization network People’s Action, said that whether or not upcountry water goes to resort areas, generations have passed and no one has figured out how to fix the infrastructure to get more water for them Residents of the country.

Maui’s water diversions were created after colonization to favor large scale agriculture, particularly the sugar industry in drier regions. In addition to the upheaval of the sustainable way of life of the Hawaiians, this led to multi-year struggles to restore water in streams, Loi Kalo and fisheries, as the depleted water sources severely impaired their livelihoods and food sovereignty.

Before the colonization, the chiefs and kings did not own the water, Ing explained. There were certain controls, but overall water was stored as a public resource to ensure access.

Ing grew up in Makawao in the upcountry, an area he said was famous for its sun, but it also drizzled a lot. Although it was raining, residents were often told to drive back because of the drought. While he says climate change has affected Upcountry’s water sources, cutting it didn’t make sense to him and the situation piqued his curiosity.

“The question [was] always: How much of the water diverted from East Maui Irrigation is actually being directed into our community and not used for commercial purposes? ”he said.

East Maui Irrigation is half owned by Alexander & Baldwin, which began in the 19th century and grew to become one of Hawaii’s largest sugar cane processing companies. It is now one of the largest real estate developers on the island. The other half is owned by Mahi Pono, a joint venture between a California agricultural company and a Canadian pension fund that acquired 41,000 acres of former sugar lands from Alexander & Baldwin in 2018.

The two companies recently made headlines over a landmark court ruling limiting their water diversions for agricultural, domestic and industrial uses from 45 million gallons per day to 25 million.

The development of the sugar cane industry in Maui resulted in the diversion of streams and other water resources for agricultural purposes. These diversions still have an impact today.

YinYang / Getty Images / iStockphoto

“My take on this is that we actually need to drill more water resources,” said Yuki Lei Sugimura, a member of the Upcountry Council, of the solution to Hawaii Public Radio.

But where should the water go?

In 2020, residents of Haiku and Paia in Upcountry complained to the Board of Water Supply, which was trying to request a plan to drill deep wells in the haiku aquifer and send millions of gallons of water to central and south Maui to do to meet their growing needs. The board has tried to do this without community input.

A representative theme of how some Maui residents are not given priority is access to the county-issued water meters. Not only does a water meter provide water to homes, it can make the ability to build a home crucial in the drier regions of the upcountry. Those who were most outraged by the wells have, in many cases, been on a waiting list for more than a decade to gain access to water meters. Officials said the backlog was due to water scarcity.

Inland, Tina Boteilho has been on the list for 16 years, which includes more than 1,500 people, many of whom are Indigenous Hawaiians and other direct descendants.

“[There are] a lot of people in my family and network of friends [on the list], and people [I went] to high school with. Your grandparents are on the list. Your parents are on the list. One of them, her grandma, died on the list. And I think that’s worrying. You know what I mean? These are Hawaiian homelands, for example. ”(Hawaiian homelands are lands reserved for indigenous Hawaiians by the federal government after the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.)

A person she knew was struck off the water meter list, but the cost of installing it was exorbitant: $ 3 million for the infrastructure to run the water for the water meter. That person eventually refused. Meanwhile, Boteilho says several developments have advanced and been approved for several water meters.

Although Boteilho had initially hoped to build a subdivision on her aunt’s property, she eventually had to buy a house when she became pregnant and could not wait any longer. Fortunately, she could afford it.

Others are not so lucky. The average price to buy a home in Maui is currently more than $ 1 million, compounding the island’s affordable housing crisis. The problem has been exacerbated by out-of-state buyers as well as vacation rentals like Airbnb, and recently resulted in several community rallies for better infrastructure and affordable housing to keep locals in their communities.

“I keep telling people we’re in crisis mode,” said South Maui Councilor Kelly Takaya King. It recently attempted to introduce a bill that would impose a moratorium on the construction of new visitor shelters, which Mayor Mike Victorino vetoed.

But after the mayor’s veto and water restrictions were announced, a global wave pool company called Surf Lakes signed an executive area agreement to build wave pools on all four major islands, including Maui, which would require 30 acres of land for 9 acre pools and millions of liters Water, causing further outrage among some locals who petition against it.

“There is direct competition for land and water, which is counterproductive for us when we address our county’s priorities of affordable housing, food security, protection of our natural resources and tourism management,” Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, a councilor for Maui County, told KHON2.

“It’s an inevitable fall because everything has been mismanaged for so long,” said Hawaiian activist and Kalo farmer Napua’onalani Hu’eu. She lives on the east side of Maui and is a vocal opponent of East Maui Irrigation’s operations and water use on social media. She also works with Hana Highway Regulation, a community organization of civil volunteers trying to alleviate tourism problems on the internationally renowned scenic road.

“It is really the person who runs the water who is responsible for all of this imbalance. … You have the power to determine what is first and second priority, and visitors are first priority. … If they actually had a means of appropriating right or wrong, whatever comes first and last of water, there would be plenty of water for [smaller] Farmers and local residents. “

Hawaii depends on imports for around 90% of its food. Hu’eu said that prior to their water diversions, much of the Hawaiian food was grown in east Maui, where the water flowed naturally. Then when the companies diverted the water, Maui’s food security declined.

Several cases directed Alexander & Baldwin to restore natural rivers in east Maui when the plantation dried up, but there is more to be done.

As possible solutions to Maui’s current problems, Ing once again turned to social media with strategies that included cutting flights and channeling the billions of federal dollars from the American Rescue Act to rebuild inefficient reservoirs, democratize irrigation, and local people Restore ecosystems and water catchment areas.

“The pandemic opened our eyes to what Hawaii was before, when our ancestors lived sustainably,” Ing told SFGATE. “But even in the 1940s and 50s, when the original boom started, it was a beautiful place. Yes, there was tourism. Back then it made sense for our economy, but over time, like the real estate market, tourism was dependent on the preservation of the natural beauty of our islands, but also on their destruction, so it was always inherently unsustainable. “

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