Advocating for a redefined perspective on water access, the Hawaii official embroiled in controversy for withholding water during the Maui wildfires asserts that a foundation of “equitable dialogues” should underpin water allocation.
M. Kaleo Manuel, formerly the deputy director of the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management, faced criticism for delaying the release of water for over five hours during the devastating Maui wildfires.
In a livestreamed discussion held by the University of Hawaii last year, Manuel extolled water’s sacred significance, envisioning it as a unifying force rather than a divisive one. “Let water be a unifying link amongst us, not a dividing one,” Manuel emphasized while addressing water distribution on the island. “Sharing it is possible, but it mandates sincere discussions centered on fairness. How can we harmonize with the resources at our disposal?”
A former leader of the Obama Foundation, Manuel participated in a program established by the former President’s non-profit, aimed at providing coaching and practical skill development for effecting social change. In this context, Manuel viewed water as a pivotal instrument for promoting social justice.
Following the fire-related water delay incident, Manuel has been reassigned to another position within the Department of Land and Natural Resources, as reported by Honolulu Civil Beat, the initial source of the delay revelation.
On August 10, the West Maui Land Company addressed a letter to Manuel, outlining that his commission had denied their appeal to divert streams for replenishing landowners’ reservoirs in the severely impacted Lahaina region, until the wildfires spiraled out of control.
Sources cited by Honolulu Civil Beat disclosed that Manuel had requested the company to consult with a local farmer to gauge the potential consequences of water diversion before granting their request.
Reflecting on the situation, the company lamented in the letter, “We observed the widespread devastation around us, feeling powerless to assist.” The letter continued, “We awaited the morning anxiously, knowing that had our request been swiftly approved, we could have made additional water accessible to the Maui Fire Department.”