Deputy director of Hawaiian water commission, who may have delayed access to more water resources during Maui fires, previously worried about water 'equity'

 The deputy director of the Commission on Water Resource Management, part of the state of Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources, has been reassigned amid accusations that the agency's delayed response to a request for more water to fight the Maui fires may have led to unnecessary death and destruction.

According to his bio on the CWRM website, M. Kaleo Manuel has one main professional responsibility as deputy director: "administering the State Water Code created in 1987." As such, when the devastating fires broke out in Maui earlier this month, the West Maui Land Company, which oversees the area's three main water purveyors, reportedly contacted Manuel and others on the CWRM to authorize diverting more water resources to help firefighters control the blaze. 

In a letter addressed to Manuel and dated August 10, West Maui Land claimed it "reached out to CWRM at around 1 p.m." on August 9 to "request approval to divert more water from the streams so [the company] could store as much was as possible for fire control." 

Unfortunately, that request was not approved for about five hours, the letter claimed. One reason for the delay may have been that CWRM told West Maui Land that it needed to request permission from one local farmer first "to ensure that his lo'i and other uses would not be impacted by a temporary reduction (not elimination) of water supply." 

The company claimed it had already made that request to the farmer but had never received a response. In any case, during "an emergency situation, or when an emergency is anticipated, a temporary reduction (not elimination) of water to one individual's farm should not be prioritized over and delay efforts to save an entire community," the letter continued.

The CWRM eventually approved the measure to shore up water reserves, which had already been seriously depleted, at around 6 p.m., the letter said, but by that time, the water company could no longer access "the siphon release to make the adjustments that would have allowed more water to fill [its] reservoirs."

Thus far, the fires have already claimed the lives of at least 110 people and laid waste to much of the Lahaina area. However, West Maui Land noted in the letter that it is impossible to know whether the delayed authorization for more water ultimately affected the outcome. "We know that fires spread quickly," it said. "We know that we need to act faster during an emergency. ... We know that we must have water available for [the Maui Fire Department] before MFD needs it. We know we can do better."

"We are all devastated," the letter from West Maui Land concluded. "No one is happy there was water in the streams while our homes, our businesses, our lands, and our lives were reduced to ash. We cannot suffer the risk that it will happen again."

To read the letter in its entirety, click here.

While local residents attempt to begin the process of healing and rebuilding, various leaders are attempting to determine what went wrong and how best to assist those in need of help. As part of that investigation, Manuel has been at least temporarily reassigned to another position within the CWRM.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources insisted that 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."

"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," the statement said.

The CRWM did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

Since his agency's possible failures during the fire crisis have cast a spotlight on Manuel, some have dug into his past and attempted to ascertain his qualifications for the role of water commission deputy director. His biography has some leftist red flags. Not only did he major in Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, but he was also "one of 200 inaugural Obama Leaders representing the Asia-Pacific region with the Obama Foundation," his bio stated.

In addition, an old clip of Manuel has since gone viral on X. In the video, Manuel suggests a pagan "reverence" for water and laments that Hawaiians now simply "use" water rather than "revere" it. "Native Hawaiians treated water as one of the earthly manifestations of a god," he said.

"So, really, my model is always, like, let water connect us and not divide us. Like, we can share it," he says using uptalk, "but it requires true conversations about equity."

Deputy director of Hawaiian water commission, who may have delayed access to more water resources during Maui fires, previously worried about water 'equity' Deputy director of Hawaiian water commission, who may have delayed access to more water resources during Maui fires, previously worried about water 'equity' Reviewed by Your Destination on August 18, 2023 Rating: 5

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