Testimony opposing the overdevelopment of Kihei (Kula-Kai).
Over-development of Kihei:
One of our greatest concerns is the area’s overdevelopment and the ongoing destruction of natural resources. Unfortunately, we have seen too much development going into natural areas that degrade the quality of the environment. In particular, we have seen far too much building directly on the shoreline which reduces public beach access and also impounds sand, and alter’s natural cycles of beach erosion and accretion. Another problem is the many developments that have encroached upon natural wetlands and watercourses.
Loss of wetlands and watercourses:
Kihei has already lost 90% of its wetlands since the 1960s (over 200 acres of wetlands in 1965 compared to today’s remaining 20 acres). The Moku of Kula includes many Ahupuaʻa. Some say that the shoreline of Kula Kai includes more Ahupuaʻa per foot than any other part of Maui. Each of these Ahupuaʻa has its own river beds, streams, and a network of underwater rivers, and freshwater springs. In all cases, the water in these streams and springs eventually reaches the ocean.
Streams of Kula Kai:
Many of Kula Kai’s stream beds are ephemeral (intermittent), so they only become evident during high rainfall events upcountry or during Kona storms. That is when Kula Kai streams can experience dramatic flash-flooding and can swell suddenly with stormwater runoff. Unfortunately, deforestation and intensive agriculture has reduced the land’s ability to hold and absorb rainwater, so the downhill areas receive muddy rainwater from eroded topsoil. Because of their ephemeral nature, our streambeds are often ignored and overlooked. Streambeds have also become a dumping ground for trash, filled in by developers, and sometimes allowed to become overgrown with weeds. Our gullies and streambeds are still part of a living dynamic system although they may appear to experience long periods of relative dormancy.
Kihei Flood Plain:
Depending on the severity of streamflow, the water in streambeds may be reabsorbed into the ground before it reaches the ocean. However, if the amount of stormwater is excessive, it will reach the lower slopes of the Kihei floodplain. The Kula-kai (Kihei) floodplain was able to absorb much of the stormwater runoff before it reached the sea. This is evidenced in both historical records and in the geological makeup of the floodplain’s silty soils. The Kihei floodplain was historically an area of many wetlands, natural pools, manmade freshwater ponds, and aquaculture.
The water cycle is eternal and perpetual:
Water falling as rain in our upper Moku can flow towards the ocean in streams, or may transit underground downslope at up to 1300 feet per day in the steeper sections, and slows to just 15 feet per day closer to the shoreline. All water eventually returns to the sea. The natural system includes water transported through the air, and across the ground, as well as subterranean pathways through porous rock layers. Millions of gallons of water reach the ocean every day through natural pathways. Ancient Hawaiians observed and emulated the natural cycles, and utilized their understanding of their environment to create sustainable agriculture and aquaculture in this region. By enhancing and protecting streams, pools, wetlands, and springs, Hawaiians in this area enjoyed an abundant wealth of natural resources. This abundance also gave them the time and ability to engage in cultural pursuits and enjoy many forms of recreation such as ocean sports.
Erosion and Siltation:
Erosion since the 1900’s floods has inundated the floodplain with massive amounts of silt and mud from the higher elevations. Unfortunately, much of Kihei’s natural and man-made water features in the low-lying areas eventually became buried. This change to the floodplain eventually led to diminishing agriculture and aquaculture, which in turn led to the general depopulation of the area. It should be noted, that the ancient wetlands and water tables, streams, and springs still remain just a few feet below the current surface. The aquifer, including the freshwater water table and the brackish water table, underlies the entire Kihei floodplain. In many areas, underwater rivers still break the surface and feed the area’s permanent freshwater springs and wetlands.
Destruction of natural and cultural features:
Uncontrolled development especially since the 70s, and poor planning have ignored these natural features, and development has been allowed to reach right up to the margins of streams, springs, and wetlands. And in some cases development has been allowed to cover-over stream beds, water courses, open spaces, and even archeological features, like ancient taro patches (Lo’i), ancient freshwater fish ponds (Loko I’a), and former agricultural and cultural sites.
MIP and Kihei Community Plan:
The Maui Island Plan and the Kihei Community plans call for the protection of open spaces, shoreline access, and natural areas. These plans also call for the protection of cultural assets and recreational activities. It should be noted that the Maui Island Plan, and Kihei-Makenna Community Plan documents focus heavily on the protection of Water Resources and the protection of water quality.
Stream beds whether they be permanent streams or ephemeral streams are vital to the well-being of the environment. The Kihei floodplain is an area traditionally subject to flooding. Floodwaters often overwhelm and overflow the banks of stream beds allowing floodwaters to naturally spread over surrounding areas. Especially at the shoreline, natural streambeds tend to fan out closer to the coast allowing floodwaters to slow and temporarily inundate the low-lying areas. The Kihei floodplain in its natural state was capable of absorbing the majority of the stormwater into the ground before it reached the ocean. Traditionally the floodplain was also able to retain the soil and debris from the stormwater by absorbing the water into the ground, thereby filtering it. In this way, the majority of stormwater was cleaned before it reached the ocean through underground pathways.
Stormwater and brown water:
Unfortunately, stream flooding events combined with altered watercourses and diminished open space in the floodplain have increased the amount of contaminated stormwater that is allowed to reach the ocean. Contaminated stormwater is very harmful to the ocean. Dirty stormwater harms sensitive coral reefs and aquatic species. Ancient Hawaiians managed stormwater runoff through their ponds and waterworks and were able to contain much of the soil from the stream and stormwater runoff and could utilize it for their agriculture. When stormwater did reach the ocean it was often directed through offshore fishponds. The fishponds of Kula Kai were regularly maintained to clear mud/silt using natural methods, deliberate actions such as towing rakes behind canoes, or manually hand-scraping the floor of the fishponds with coconut shells to remove the mud. Once the mud was removed from the seabed it was often recycled into the sea-walls as a construction material.
In modern times, stormwater has become more toxic with sewage and chemicals. Agricultural chemicals leech into stormwater and are swept up in the soil and washed into streams. Fertilizer from lawns and golf courses has also contaminated stormwater. Industrial chemicals and other manmade chemicals wash from streets and commercial properties into rainwater and streams. Even recycled sewage water used to irrigate gardens and landscaping is taken up in stormwater and transported seaward. When stormwater that is laden with chemicals and sewerage reaches the sea it is far more destructive and harmful than merely soil-contaminated stormwater. For example, sewage and fertilizer cause algae bloom that harm coral reefs, and Glyphosate-based weed killers (example “Roundup”) can persist in streams, and can even survive in seawater for up to 380 days where it remains harmful and toxic to our sea life. When agricultural herbicides like widely used glyphosate reach the reef, they can kill off all kinds of microflora, including the coral’s own symbiotic microbial alga, which it relies upon for survival.
Mitigating Stormwater runoff:
The best way to manage contaminated stormwater is to keep it on land and prevent it from reaching the sea. So we need to protect the natural watercourses and also protect the adjoining land where streams naturally overflow. Streams need room to expand, especially near the ocean. We need to acknowledge the function of natural flood-prone areas to absorb excess water. We should increase mandatory setbacks from stream beds, and disallow new construction close to watercourses. We should also start to identify and protect all important open-space areas, that are part of the larger natural water-management system.
Discourage diversion, hardening, channeling, covering, or narrowing of watercourses:
We should discourage the altering of any natural watercourse or traditional historical water-management features. We should disallow the artificial channeling and straightening of streambeds and the covering-over and diversion of stormwater beneath developments. We should discourage the hardening of natural watercourses with concrete culverts, especially where underground streams are present as this stops the water from being naturally reabsorbed into the aquifer.
We must protect open spaces:
Open spaces naturally absorb water, whereas development-hardened surfaces increase rainwater sheeting and stormwater production. Open space is necessary for a balanced environment. Open space in critical areas, like areas abutting stream beds and wetlands, is vital for managing natural water flow cycles such as periods of high rain. Open space adjacent to wetlands, and even open space that was a one-time wetland, are areas that receive stormwater and floodwater and often become ephemeral (temporary) wetlands.
Protecting open space helps to mitigate hazard risk:
The coastal zone is prone to many risks. Heavy storms, erosion, flooding, as well as the gradual effects of global warming and sea-level rise. Sea level rise not only affects the lowest-lying areas at the shoreline but will also raise the underground water table affecting all of the low-lying areas where the water table is close to the surface. Rising sea levels and a corresponding rising water table could potentially affect all low-lying properties on the Kihei floodplain. As former wetlands will become saturated with rising groundwater and return to a wetland state. Flooding will become worse as there will be nowhere for the floodwater to flow to. Sealevel rise will also affect the stormwater and sewage management infrastructure and make it ineffective or inoperable. Global warming also affects climate and global weather, and we have already seen major shifts in historic weather patterns, climate, and rainfall. It is likely that Hawaii’s weather could also shift toward a much wetter climate with more frequent severe storms. Extreme storms already push our drainage and sewage infrastructure beyond their limits. And these extreme events could become worse. We need to look ahead and create natural buffers and intentional setbacks to allow for changed water flows, rainfalls, and sea-level changes. Looking forward, and planning ahead it is more imperative than ever to protect open spaces close to the shoreline, and protect our natural watercourses. To do this we must restrict overbuilding close to the shoreline. We should also be directing urban growth away from the shoreline, and preserving the natural environment as much as possible.
Open Space Flood Zones:
These open space flood zones are essential elements in the overall water cycle and natural drainage systems. Open space needs to be set aside and preserved for its ability to aid the balance of natural and manmade sources of stormwater runoff and to mitigate the negative effects of allowing contaminated water to enter the ocean.
Streambed Setbacks and Alternate Watercourses:
There need to be increased setbacks created for natural watercourses, as these areas function as overflow zones. This can be evidenced in the water-shaped geography of the entire Moku. Streams naturally overflow and find alternate watercourses during high flow events. This is a normal function of streams, and part of the natural system that we inherited, and it has created the physical environment that we now live in. So this bigger picture of the natural system should be acknowledged, appreciated, and protected. We need to realize the contribution of secondary streambeds, alternate watercourses, and overflow zones, as they are all an essential part of the interconnected natural systems that have shaped this land.
Open space abutting streambeds is also a specific type of wildlife habitat and wildlife corridor. These areas are unique and distinct from other environments. And they are also corridors for plants and animals that connect mauka to makai. Streambeds, even intermittent ones, have a greater concentration of plant life and are able to sustain more biodiversity than other areas. Aerial photos show the many green corridors of Moku Kula’s ephemeral stream beds.
Regarding the Maui Coast Development:
This development is proposed to be built across a streambed. This lot is currently open space and is where the stream could be allowed to overflow. This area should be allowed to function as a natural detention basin. This area and our community would be best served by keeping this lot as open space and kept as a pathway for floodwater during future extreme events. This development, if allowed, would decrease the stream’s ability to expand its banks during floods, and it would stop the stream’s ability to find alternate secondary pathways as needed.
Streams should have room to flow and expand and meander, especially so close to the coast. Streams also need to have open space abutting them so that when water does overflow their banks, it can find porous ground where the water can be reabsorbed. This proposed expansion/development would channelize the stream, into a “concrete canyon”, restrict it to a narrowly-defined area, and would not allow it to naturally expand and contract during natural cycles. This proposed development would also fill in, cover over, and harden the ground surface of the area surrounding the stream. This would make it impossible for the stream to naturally overflow its banks and spill excess water to open ground where it could be absorbed in a harmless manner. Allowing this development would also increase stormwater production adding to the problems of stormwater entering the ocean.
Do not approve this development:
Please respect and preserve the natural assets of this area. Streams should be allowed to exist in their own right, they should remain unaltered and unmolested. Streams need to stay dynamic and responsive to the environment, and the natural areas abutting streams need to be preserved also as natural areas, for water management and for the preservation of natural habitats. And it is vitally important that streambeds and their surrounding open-space areas are allowed to function as flood-mitigators and stormwater-managers so that the amount of harmful stormwater entering the ocean is reduced to the maximum extent possible.