United States

Maui wildfires: State official's decision to withhold water questioned

A state official is being criticized because it took too long to release water to help put out a wildfire on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

Photo from Maui after fire devastation
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A state official's decision to delay releasing water from a reservoir to aid in the fight against a blazing wildfire on Maui is being questioned. The fire has already devastated hundreds of acres of property and forced thousands of people to evacuate, while many  believe that the water could have been used to limit the fire and prevent further damage.
A letter from the West Maui Land Company to a representative of the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM) describes a water supply delay that might have hampered firefighters' efforts to put out a blazing fire in west Maui.
The letter, dated August 10, to CWRM deputy director M. Kaleo Manuel, outlines the events and communication issues that caused a delay in diverting streams to fill reservoirs and making them available to firemen. The three-page document requests that Manuel suspend all usual protocols and rules in the event of another fire so that assistance can be provided instantly. 
West Maui Land Co. is in charge of managing three water sources on West Maui. As the fire raged on the island, the company stated that firefighters had depleted what little water they had in their reservoirs and tanks, so they requested that the CWRM divert water from streams so that they could "store as much water as possible for fire control."
Instead of approving the request, the commission—according to the letter sent by the company to Manuel—asked if the Maui Fire Department (MFD) had requested permission to dip into the reservoirs and instructed them to first consult with a local farmer to determine how a diversion of the water supply would affect him.
According to the corporation, "communications were spotty," and the commission's clearance to divert water from the streams arrived five hours after their initial request.
Since then, Manuel has been criticized on social media, where a clip of him talking about saving water resources in the area has been shared again.
"My motto has always been: let water connect us, not divide us," he says in the video, adding that water should be appreciated rather than simply used. 
While the inquiry is ongoing, Manuel has been reassigned to another position within the department, according to the DLNR. Manuel's new role was not specified by the department.
 

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