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Is Kihei Ready for the Next Storm Season?

Experts outline problems and discuss flooding minimization strategies at Maui Nui Marine Resource Council meeting. “Coastal run-off and sedimentation kill our coral reefs.”

December 1, 2011
Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez , The Maui Weekly

More than 125 people gathered on a Friday evening at the beginning of the last weekend before Thanksgiving to attend a meeting to increase public awareness about causes of flooding in North Kihei and to determine how the community and agencies can work together to reduce flooding this winter and into the future.

The "Kokua Ka'ono'ulu Flood Forum" was held at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary next to Kalepolepo Beach Park on South Kihei Road, which, along with many other locations in the area, has suffered the affects of flooding as recently as March of this year.

Because flooding in South Maui in the winter months is as consistent as the arrival of the whales to Maui waters each year, the central focus of the meeting revolved around this question: Given the toll floodwaters have taken on South Maui, is Kihei any more ready for this next storm season, or any storm season?

Article Photos

Floodwaters raging from Upcountry to Kihei during the December 2010 storms can be seen in this aerial photo of Këokea and Kulanihako‘i Gulches, and a small wetland area in North Kihei, carrying muddy sediment which was dumped on near-shore reefs. The Maui Nui Marine Resource Council has suggested that detention basins and other structures be constructed as a way to minimize perennial flooding in South Maui.
Photo: Hugh Starr

With the sound of a conch shell and an ancient Hawaiian chant asking permission to enter, Kumu Kimokeo Kapahulehua set the stage for the evening's dialogue.

The meeting, sponsored by the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council (MNMRC), sought to gather the community together as part of the Kokua Ka'ono'ula Project that is working to address the flooding problem in North Kihei with a mountain-to-the-sea approach.

Robin Knox, water quality management expert and MNMRC coordinator, served as the moderator of panels convened to speak to meeting attendees, who sought information about minimizing the affects of flooding and protecting the health of the damaged near-shore reefs.

Panel speakers addressed reef health, sustainable land use, contemporary watershed management and community-based solutions.

Knox pointed out that a watershed, a region drained by a river, stream or other water flow system, is similar to the Hawaiian ahupua'a, wedge-shaped land sections that run mauka to makai (from the mountains to the sea).

Knox said that when erosion and soil compacting occurs Upcountry, the water that runs down to Kihei is polluted and can cause danger both to the health of humans and to the health of the sea.

The Federal Clean Water Act mandates that water be fishable and swimable. Knox presented information that questioned whether Kihei waters actually meet those federal goals. She said that according to the Hawai'i Department of Health and Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Ma'alaea Bay water quality is impaired due to issues of turbidity (cloudiness), nitrates and chlorophylla (indicating fecal waste products).

"We need more watershed planning," said Knox, summing up her presentation.

"Hawaiian values that have been in practice for centuries are important to recognize in any work addressing this area," added panelist Lucienne de Naie. "We can't bring back the past, but perhaps we can use our present technology to use the techniques of the past to improve our planning for the future."

DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources Education Specialist Russell Sparks addressed the subject of Maui's reefs. "There is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the poor health of Maui's reefs, including overdevelopment, agricultural run-off, chronic sediment run-off, over-fishing, overuse by tourists and visitors, boat groundings and anchor damage, pollutants and nutrients that stimulate algae growth," Sparks said.

"Our Maui coral cover is declining," he said, "going from 42 percent to 9 percent in the last 15 years. Coastal runoff and sedimentation kill our coral reefs." In fact, he added, "Ma'alaea Bay coral has suffered a complete coral collapse."

"It is pointless to get into the idiocy of coastal development, given global warming and other realities," said MNMRC member Michael Howland.

Instead, Howland suggested that flooding in North Kihei could be prevented with a series of water receptor banks to slow the flow of water coming down the mountain and divert the water into the dry areas within the landscape.

"The water can be used to help bring back Maui's dry land forests and support increased agriculture," said Howland.

Howland urged cooperation by government and landowners to build water detention basins and other structures that could be created using the skills and creativity of ranchers, farmers and others.

Next steps for the MNMRC are to continue community outreach and assist in providing an opportunity for involvement in a pilot water quality management project organized by volunteers. The MNMRC will hold additional community meetings seeking volunteers and resources to assist in developing an effective watershed plan for Kihei and hopes to facilitate its utilization.

MNMRC will meet next on Thursday, Dec. 8, at the Kula Community Center.

In the meantime, if you live in Kihei near the intersection of South and North Kihei Roads, it might be akamai this winter to invest in hip waders and sand bags, and to stay tuned for upcoming Upcountry flood warnings.

For more information, follow MNMRC on Facebook.



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