Hawaii News

Water advocates alarmed as Green threatens to veto 2 bills that would protect freshwater supplies

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Gov. Josh Green

Hawai‘i Governor Josh Green is preparing to veto two bills intended to deter and respond to drinking water crises, like the one triggered by leaks from the Red Hill fuel tanks.

Water advocates – including over three dozen community organizations – are raising the
alarm, questioning who is advising the Green Administration, and emphasizing the unintended
consequences his vetoes could have – including on housing for local residents.

HB1088 would enable the Water Commission to better ensure public needs are prioritized
during a water emergency.

Earlier this year, a Deputy Attorney General for the Water Commission said the additional language was necessary to allow the commission to order reductions of nonessential water uses in a crisis, such as a major drought or further pollution from the Red Hill fuel tanks.

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It is not clear why the Green Administration suddenly reversed its position by including this bill
on the intent to veto list, according to the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i, which argues the veto justification – that emergency authority already exists – ignores the months if not years of planning, rule-making and other intermediate steps current law requires before emergency action can be taken.

“We are in the middle of a water crisis caused by the US military, yet potable water is still being
used to irrigate their golf courses and lawns,” said Wayne Tanaka, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi
Executive Director. “This bill would give the Water Commission the tools it says it needs to take
timely action in an emergency, to prevent frivolous uses of our precious freshwater supplies that should be prioritized for our homes, schools, hospitals – our most vital needs.”

HB153 would authorize the Water Commission to impose meaningful fines against those who
could otherwise over-pump aquifers or drain streams dry with impunity, notwithstanding
the law or the needs of the community.

If codified in law, this bill would allow the Water Commission to use its enforcement process to charge violators up to $60,000 per day, an increase from the current maximum penalty of $5,000 per day – better ensuring that even the deepest pockets cannot shrug off water commission fines or otherwise ignore the law.

The Green Administration justified the veto on concerns that housing developments might be
discouraged by such fines and that counties’ Board of Water Supplies would apply these fines
immediately.

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Advocates noted that the Water Commission in its 35 years of existence has never levied a fine on a county water board or department for over pumping their water use permits, and that meaningful fines are critical to protect counties’ water needs from violators who might otherwise monopolize water resources.

“It is disingenuous for the Green Administration to use affordable housing to justify a veto that
really is just a short-sighted favoritism for luxury developers and the military,” said Marti
Townsend, a specialist with the non-profit environmental law firm, Earthjustice. “Let’s ask
ourselves: Who is first in line to be prosecuted for taking more than their fair share of water? It is either the U.S. military who has taken a million gallons of freshwater over their permitted limits, or the luxury developments with their exotic landscaping and lush golf courses in the middle of summer. It definitely is not the little county boards of water supply trying to make sure everyone has their basic water needs met.”

“These bills are about ensuring that priority needs of water can be protected from those who feel like they are above the law, or who could care less about the water needs of everyday
residents,” said Tanaka. “If Governor Green vetoes these measures, in our next water
emergency, kamaʻāina, farmers, and affordable housing developers may have to fend for
themselves against some of the most powerful water-guzzling interests in the islands, without
hope for Water Commission intervention.”

“Governor Green should rethink these veto decisions so that he can make a real contribution
towards solving the current Red Hill fuel crisis, and set our future selves up for success when
the next crisis hits,” added Townsend.

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In a joint letter, 43 organizations working in a variety of sectors – from housing support,
to healthcare, to Native Hawaiian rights – have urged Governor Green to allow HB1088 and
HB153 to become law.

Water advocates send joint Letter Gov. Green by Tiffany De Masters on Scribd

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