A Hawaiian company says that its efforts to divert water to fight a devastating wildfire last week were delayed for hours while a government agency, led by a man who has pushed for “water equity,” consulted with local farmers.
The West Maui Land Company, which manages several agricultural and residential subdivisions along with water jurisdictions, says that it requested water the day of the catastrophic wildfire in Maui from the Commission On Water Resource Management but was initially denied for several hours.
The company alleges the reason for that delay was that the commission had to clear the move with local farmers. By the time the request was granted, several hours later, the company says it was too late.
“We followed the process. The process failed us,” Glenn Tremble, an executive with West Maui Land Co., told Hawaii Public Radio in an emailed statement.
In an Aug. 10 letter to CWRM deputy director M. Kaleo Manuel, the company said, “No one is happy there was water in the streams while our homes, our businesses, our lands, and our lives were reduced to ash.”
Manuel has been quoted as calling for more “water equity” on the island in the past. While no allegation has been made by the company or the government that “water equity” was connected to the delay, many have criticized Manuel over his comments that resurfaced on social media.
“My motto has always been: let water connect us, not divide us,” Manuel says in the clip. “We can share it, but it requires true conversations about equity.”
“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,” the state’s website says about Manuel.
In a press release, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources announced that Manuel has since been reassigned.
“DLNR is re-deploying First Deputy of the Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM), Kaleo Manuel, to a different DLNR division,” the press release said. “The purpose of this deployment is to permit CWRM and the Department to focus on the necessary work to assist the people of Maui recover from the devastation of wildfires.”
“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.”
At least 110 people were killed in the August 8 wildfire in Lahaina, Maui and that death toll is expected to rise which has led to finger pointing at what went wrong including why fire crews ran out of water and found countless dry hydrants.
“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,” Hawaii Governor Josh Green said in a press conference. “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,” Green said. “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.”
The Department of Land and Natural Resources declined to comment.
“I’d like to see this broader issue discussed at another time,” Tremble told Fox News Digital on Friday afternoon.
“Right now isn’t the time for him to point fingers.”