The deputy director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources Commission on Water Resource Management, M. Kaleo Manuel, who is in charge of all water resources, has recently come under scrutiny after it was found that he was responsible for the delay in water distribution to combat the Maui fires. His responsibilities include managing and enforcing the State Water Code (enacted in 1987) and all other water-related rules issued by the Commission.
On August 16, an old video of M. Kaleo Manuel, appeared on social media, showing that he considered water "holy" and primarily designed for traditional rites. Since then, the internet has claimed that this was the true reason for delaying the release of water immediately, despite repeated pleas from local landowners to preserve their properties from the flames.
In fact, the water standoff lasted the entire day and was only resolved after it was too late.
According to Honolulu Civil Beat, M. Kaleo Manuel delayed the release of water on August 8 despite knowing that western Maui was on fire because of a long-standing dispute between his office and West Maui Land Co., which is in charge of managing agricultural and residential subdivisions in West Maui.
In fact, when the latter requested that the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) authorize an emergency water release to combat the fires, it was the deputy director, M. Kaleo Manuel, who embarked on a water standoff.
According to the media, Manuel asked that the West Maui Land Co. obtain permission from a 'taro' (also known as a 'kalo'), which is a native Hawaiian traditional farm located downstream from the company's property and relies on water as its primary cultural resource.
The approval was eventually granted, and Manuel gave the go-ahead for the water to be released, but by then the fire had extended too far and incinerated everything in its path.
Social media users have called him out for his hypocrisy when he failed to live up to his words in the video and refused to release water during a disaster. So far, M. Kaleo Manuel has not commented on his now-criticized move or the online outcry. His office told the press on Monday, August 14, that he was too busy reacting to the state's emergency and was "unable to facilitate any inquiry at this time."