Environmental Law Clinic Update

Environmental Law Clinic Update: Protecting Fresh Water Resources on Molokaʻi

By Mahina Tuteur, Post-J.D. Research and Teaching Fellow

For the Spring Semester 2018, the Environmental Law Clinic took on an important project supporting community members on Molokaʻi who are grappling with how to protect their fresh water resources, and the traditional and customary Native Hawaiian practices dependent upon them, all of which will be impacted by the impending sale of 55,575 acres of the last Hawaiian island. To deepen our knowledge of Molokaʻi’s precious water resources, clinicians have been working closely with community members to get a better sense of how water issues have evolved over the years and the existing state of surface and ground water systems and resources.

A critical part of this effort involved a site visit on February 9-11, 2018, during which students checked out parts of the island’s water systems, discussed current issues with community members, and ensured that the research they were conducting on Oʻahu reflected reality on the ground in Molokaʻi.

Students returned to Molokaʻi on April 12 to share presentations on their preliminary factual research and legal analysis and facilitate a discussion with community stakeholders around the future of Molokaiʻs fresh water resources. Students offered updates on: (1) the Molokaʻi Irrigation System; (2) the Molokaʻi Mountain Water System; and (3) ground water resources, especially from Well 17, including who is using the water and for what purposes. The students received excellent feedback from community members, including direction about how to move forward and refine their final work products.

One community member commented: “Appreciative and hopeful that we have a generation of intelligent, passionate and capable Hawaiians that are taking the torch to lead us into the future in a pono way with tremendous respect and aloha for our land and our people.  Mahalo.” Another said: “Mahalo nui loa for all your hard work! Very much appreciated.” Second year law student, Kealiʻi Sagum, expressed: “This experience allowed me to utilize the legal tools that law school has given me in a real life, practical setting. It has reinvigorated my passion for Environmental and Native Hawaiian Law and has also reinforced the reason why I applied for law school in the first place: to help advocate for and protect the interests of the people and natural environment of Hawaiʻi.”

This project would not have been possible without the kōkua of many partners. Mahalo piha to Uncle Walter and Aunty Loretta Ritte, Kalaniua and Mercy Ritte and Hui o Kuapā, Uncle Glenn Teves, Aunty Māhealani Davis, Aunty Karen Holt, Aunty Lori Buchanan, Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Colette Machado, Myron Akutagawa, and Kūlana ʻŌiwi for allowing us to use their fabulous meeting space for the community presentations.