Maui Inferno: Official Who Ignored Water Requests Defends Decision, Cites ‘Equity’

Maui residents pleaded with officials to divert West Maui’s stream water into reservoirs for fighting fires in the Maui Inferno. Kaleo Manual was Hawaii’s Deputy Director of the Commission on Water Resource Management. He said, “Like water can be shared but real conversations are needed about equity.”

Glenn Tremble of the West Maui Land Company provided the chronology in a letter to Manuel obtained by The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

In the letter, it was stated that, although the fire had been put out by 9 am, the company had received reports about power lines falling, high winds, blackouts, and low reservoir levels. The company contacted the commission to ask for permission to divert as much water as possible from streams in order to fight the blaze.

Instead, CWRM asked that the company confirm with the downstream users even if a temporary reduction in water supply will affect their use.

In the letter, it was stated that communication had been sporadic. The company also tried unsuccessfully to contact a downstream user.

The Star-Advertiser reported locals saying that the fire was moving so quickly and so hot that “water poured from melted pipes and also depressurized lines that supplied the hydrants.” Tremble said that although the approval was given to divert more water, it could not be done due to fire.

Tremble wrote, “Around 6:00 p.m., we received CWRM’s approval to divert more water. We had not yet been able to adjust the siphon to pump more water into our reservoirs.

We watched as the destruction took place without being able to help. As we awaited dawn, knowing that we could have given more water to MFD if our request had been approved immediately.

Tremble stated that he did not know if filling the reservoirs up by 1 p.m. would make a difference.

“We’re in this together. ”

Manuel posted a video on X early Thursday morning that shared his views about water, religion, and equity.

Manuel said:

It is the responsibility of the commission to manage and protect the water resources in the state. Native Hawaiians viewed water as a manifestation of God on earth. Our worldview was based on reverence and reciprocity.

This is a change in values. We have become used to water, but not seeing it as life-giving. It’s important that we as islanders reconnect with our traditional values. “We can share water but we must have real discussions about equity.

We revere water as a valuable resource. Water is essential to life, and it protects us from fire, as well as protecting animals, plants, and ourselves.

The CWRM website has a biography of Manuel:

Kaleo was born and raised on the Island of Hawai‘i and currently resides in Mānoa, O’ahu. He is currently serving his second term as the Deputy Director for the State of Hawai‘i, Commission on Water Resource Management tasked with administering the State Water Code created in 1987. He is an ‘ōlapa and ho‘opa‘a in Hālau Pua Ali‘i ‘Ilima, completing his traditional ‘ūniki rites with Kumu Hula Victoria Holt-Takamine in 2017.

Kaleo also holds a B.A. in Hawaiian Studies, a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning, and a Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation, all from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Kaleo began his professional planning and public service career at the State of Hawai‘i, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Evolving from a land use focus, over the past 10 years, Kaleo has focused on bringing planning and indigenous knowledge to the fields of water advocacy and management in Hawai‘i. Kaleo is one of 200 inaugural Obama Leaders representing the Asia-Pacific region with the Obama Foundation.

Land management and water management are important areas where indigenous knowledge can be put to use. The destruction that we see today could have been prevented if this approach had been taken for land and forest management.

Manuel’s failure is not unique.