Water board criticizes National Parks Service’s water request

The National Park Service’s request for a water management area designation would imperil several “much-needed” community projects, Hawaii County’s Water Board says in a letter to the Commission on Water Resource Management.

Those projects that could be affected by the designation, which would require every existing water user to apply for the right to continue drawing as much water as it is already using, as well as start a new process for new users to apply for water use, include Hawaii Community College — Palamanui, the West Hawaii Judiciary Complex, the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, Kona International Airport and affordable housing projects in the area, Chairman Kenneth Kaneshiro said in the June 18 letter.

The designation could “delay, halt and increase the costs” for those projects, the letter said.

The board and Department of Water Supply officials worked together on the letter, DWS Manager Quirino Antonio said during a meeting Wednesday at the West Hawaii Civic Center.

“The board wanted to inform you that it is extremely disappointed in the (National Park Service’s) initiation of the petition,” the letter said. “Their aggressive action and relentless and patronizing politicking have angered the board and many in our community.”

Board members took issue with park service claims that without the management area designation, new wells would be drilled near sensitive habitat and culturally important sites, putting traditional and customary Hawaiian practices at risk.

“This is grossly overreaching, and is an attack on the integrity of the stakeholders, public policies, and public agencies at the state and county levels that are charged to protect all resources,” the letter said.

Despite the park services assertions that the designation only adds another permit review to the water use process, commission officials told board members that wasn’t true.

Finally, board members noted what they called the irony of National Park Service officials claiming to file the petition to protect customary practices, when they have stopped some traditional Hawaiian practices in the park land.

“At a board meeting, the (park service) admitted to suspending various traditional and customary Native Hawaiian rights and practices at the Kaloko-Honokohau Park with no foreseeable date for restoring them,” the letter said.

The full letter is available on the department’s website, hawaiidws.org.