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A Maui land company said its request for water to help fight the wildfire that raged last week on the island was delayed during critical hours by a state agency that first had to consult with local farmers.
The West Maui Land Company, which manages agricultural and residential subdivisions and water jurisdictions, alleged in a letter sent to Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM) Deputy Director Kaleo Manuel that the government agency delayed its request for hours and by the time the request was granted, it was too late, Fox News reported. The death toll from the fires hit 111 and included children, but much of the burn area still needs to be searched as hundreds of people remain missing.
Glenn Tremble of the West Maui Land Company said he made the initial request for the state agency to divert water from streams on August 8 as the fire spread through the town of Lahaina, but hours went by before he heard anything, according to CNN.
“We anxiously awaited the morning knowing that we could have made more water available to (the fire department) if our request had been immediately approved,” Tremble wrote in the letter. “We cannot know whether filling our reservoirs at 1:00 p.m. (as opposed to not at all) would have changed the headlines when dawn broke… We know that we need to act faster during an emergency.”
Manuel was criticized earlier this week for past comments on “water equity” as a resurfaced clip spread on social media showing the deputy director discussing how water “requires true conversations about equity.”
“My motto has always been: let water connect us, not divide us,” Manuel says in the clip. “We can share it, but it requires true conversations about equity.”
M. Kaleo Manuel, the Hawaiian official in charge of water resources is under fire for refusing to divert water from streams and release it to quell the raging Maui fires explains that water must never be used, but revered. pic.twitter.com/fc5lqZGS0Z
— Catch Up (@CatchUpFeed) August 17, 2023
The state’s website says Manuel “has focused on bringing planning and indigenous knowledge to the fields of water advocacy and management in Hawai‘i.”
The West Maui Land Company blasted CWRM in the letter, writing, “We are all devastated. No one is happy there was water in the streams while our homes, our businesses, our lands, and our lives were reduced to ash.”
Manuel has been reassigned to a different division, according to a press release from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, which insisted that the reassignment was not for anything he did wrong, Fox News reported.
“DLNR is re-deploying First Deputy of the Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM), Kaleo Manuel, to a different DLNR division,” the press release said. “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.”
“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.”
Hawaiian Electric is also under scrutiny for allegedly slow-walking modernization and repairs of its electrical grid as it devoted resources to building out the utility’s green energy network. The state attorney general said it will use a third party to investigate how state and local government agencies responded to the devastating fires.