The law firm Earthjustice has petitioned the state Commission on Water Resource Management in an effort to halt what it says is the waste of stream water on Moloka‘i. Moloka‘i Ranch takes the water from seven intakes on four streams high in the mountains of eastern Moloka‘i.
“The ranch’s current reported level of diversions from the Moloka‘i Mountain Streams … raises manifest concerns of water hoarding and waste,” Earthjustice attorneys Isaac Moriwake, Leina‘ala Ley, and Mahesh Cleveland note in their petition to CWRM. The petition was filed with the commission on July 1 on behalf of Moloka‘i No Ka Heke, a group of island residents who are seeking to restore flows to Waikolu, Kawela, Kaunakakai, and Manawainui streams and end the ranch’s wasteful diversons.
The ranch shut down all its commercial business in 2008, including a lodge, a village, golf course, gas station, cinema, and livestock operations. Despite this, the reported water use today, roughly .4 million gallons a day (mgd), is comparable to what it claimed to divert in 2004, about .54 mgd.
Well before it ceased to do business in 2008, in February 2005, Moloka‘i Ranch stopped providing to the state Commission on Water Resource Management any monthly reports on its water use. Then, suddenly, in November 2017, it began again, a move that Earthjustice suggests may be linked to the ranch’s owner, GL Ltd. of Singapore, putting it on the market in September of that year.
In any event, whether the reports have ever had any relationship to actual volumes of water diverted is open to question.
The total amount of water that Moloka‘i Ranch claimed to divert from the streams in the early 1990s, when the state required all diversions to be declared, came to 1.238 mgd, the petition notes. However, “the ranch’s actual water uses and needs have never been more than a fraction of the diversion amounts” while ranch uses “have only further diminished after the ranch shut down its ranching and hotel operations 10 years ago in 2009,” it goes on to say.
“The last time the ranch’s Wai‘ola utility reported its end uses to the Public Utilities Commission, it supplied only around 382 customers an estimated total of 0.112 mgd of water. This water use amount is far less than the diversion amounts that the ranch has represented in its recently resumed reporting, and an entire order of magnitude less than the amounts the ranch originally declared to this commission,” the petition says.
The commission is asked to take a number of actions in response to the petition:
First, it is asked to amend the interim instream flow standards for the four diverted streams.
Second, it should place on the ranch the burden to justify its diversions, provide accurate reporting, and demonstrate that its uses are reasonable-beneficial, as opposed to wasteful.
Third, the commission should issue a declaratory order requiring the ranch to legally terminate its certified water uses and abandon its diversions. “As part of this process, the ranch should be required to remove and remediate the diversion structures, as well as any related discarded material in and around the streams.” The petition calls out especially refuse at the West Kawela intake, where pipes, trash, and even a discarded lead-acid battery were recently seen.
Last, the petition asks the commission find that the ranch has violated numerous rules and statutes in failing to submit timely reports on its diversions and to report abandoned water uses. Also, it asks the commission to impose administrative penalties, as provided in statute. “The commission has the authority to levy administrative penalties of up to $5,000 per day for these violations … and should impose an appropriate amount of fines for the ranch’s long-running non-compliance, and to deter such irresponsible conduct in the future.” (In a footnote, the petition states: “Over the 12 years and 10 months the ranch violated its reporting obligations, the maximum potential fines accrued to $23,415,000.)
— Patricia Tummons