The Wahikuli-Honokowai Watershed Management Plan will be completed by the end of the month with runoff to be handled in a coral-friendly manner, said members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at a public meeting Tuesday at the Lahaina Civic Center.
The status of the Wahikuli-Honokowai watershed plan was revealed as part of a presentation to the public to discuss the "West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative." Its goal is to form a comprehensive plan to reduce land-based pollution threats to West Maui coral reefs.
The initiative, a federal and state collaboration, will recommend actions to treat and reduce pollutants at five watersheds, including Wahikuli and Honokowai. The three remaining watersheds, which have yet to start the watershed plan development process, are in Kahana, Honokahua and Honolua.
Strategies include storm drain retrofits, rain gardens and baffle boxes. "Baffle boxes are essentially filters put in pre-existing concrete structures," said U.S. Army Corps Program Manager Cindy Barger. "It captures the sediment before water flows out of it."
Over the past year, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Army Corps and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have worked on the Wahikuli-Honokowai plan and identified priority actions to be implemented. Barger said the plan was meant to be nonregulatory to allow the flexibility to make changes during the implementation process.
"As we implement actions into the Wahikuli-Honokowai plan, we'll learn everything from permitting to engineering," said Barger. "We'll incorporate these findings into our plan, and in the other three proposed watersheds, as we move forward."
Representatives from the Aha Moku Advisory Committee, a part of the DLNR with Native Hawaiian representatives from each island who offer input on traditional natural resource management, and the Native Hawaiian community voiced their concern with the process and governmental involvement.
"This is a Western approach that's been faulting all these years," said Aha Moku Kahoolawe representative Leslie Kuloloio to an audience of about 75 people. "I haven't seen a success story yet, where a federal agency has protected our resources in Hawaii. Neither has the state or the county."
Barger said she understands the Native Hawaiian community's concern, citing the Army Corps' solution to flooding in the past.
"From the 1920s to the '90s, the traditional approach to reducing floods is to get the water off the lands and away from houses, as quickly as possible," said Barger. "So the best way to do that was to essentially create a giant concrete channel . . . and because there's no natural way to filter all the dirt and vegetation, it runs directly into the stream and pollutes it."
The polluted water and siltation flows into the ocean, threatening the reef and its ecosystem.
The on-site manager of the West Maui initiative, Tova Callender, said the objective of the study is to avoid concrete hardening, similar to the one Wahikuli Gulch experienced a few years ago.
"As we identified in the Wahikuli Gulch study, concrete hardening caused a lot of problems," said Callender. "We're only looking at restoration and soft engineering practices, which includes finding the right native Hawaiians to plant in designated areas or a stable matte that would prevent the erosion that occurs every time it rains."
Aha Moku Maui representative Keeaumoku Kapu said he recalled a meeting 14 years ago at Lahainaluna High School, concerning the floodwaters from the mountains.
"Ever since Pioneer Mill and a lot of the other companies shut down, nobody managed the ditches in Lahaina," said Kapu. "I pass those ditches every day, and it's covered in mud. One way to alleviate the flooding problems is to clean and restore those ditches, because those ditches are traditional Hawaiian practices that actually retained water."
Kuloloio agreed with Kapu and said that Native Hawaiian knowledge must be an integral part of the planning process.
"We are not against the process," said Kuloloio. "All we're saying is we need to bring in Hawaiian ancestral knowledge."
The road to this management plan started in 1997, when the state Department of Health and the federal Environmental Protection Agency started the West Maui Watershed Owners Manual.
"It was a really good initiative that did a lot of work in Honolua," said Barger. "They implemented close to 90 percent of their actions, but we found that they were too small and discreet. We needed more partners and larger actions to really see a difference in the reef."
Barger said that the recent initiative is due to the partnership between the DLNR and the Army Corps.
"This was our third try that was finally successful," said Barger. "In 2009, we had a congressional appropriation and pressure from the state that allowed us to start this study."
Barger hopes the planning for the three additional watersheds will be completed by next year, with more information and reviews every year thereafter.
Those plans and reviews will go into the West Maui Ridge to Reef Initiative, which is scheduled to have a comprehensive plan by 2015. The initiative's plan will cover 24,000 acres from Kaanapali to Honolua and from the summit of Puu Kukui in the West Maui Mountains to the outer reef.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.