Maui Official Who Allegedly Delayed Water to Fight Fire Faces Reassignment

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

We reported on the incredible and infuriating story about a Maui official who reportedly delayed okaying water needed to help put out the fire in Maui for five hours, which delayed it getting to the firefighters. Kaleo Manuel was the Deputy Director of Hawaii's Commission on Water Resource Management.

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The West Maui Land Company asked the Commission for approval to divert more water from streams to help fight the fire. 

Instead of approving the request, CWRM asked the company whether the Maui Fire Department had requested permission to dip into the reservoirs and directed it to first inquire with the downstream user to ensure that his loi and other uses would not be impacted by a temporary reduction of water supply.

So in the middle of a raging fire that was wiping everything and everyone out, they were paying attention to some regulation about the "impact" of what that water use might be in the future. 

The Land Company made it clear.  

“We watched the devastation around us without the ability to help,” said the company in the letter. “We anxiously awaited the morning knowing that we could have made more water available to MFD [Maui Fire Department] if our request had been immediately approved.”

As we reported, Manuel was a former Obama Foundation leader who previously made a video explaining his ideas about water use requiring discussions about "equity."  What he was involved in as part of the Obama Foundation doesn't appear to have served him or anyone else well here.  

A former Obama Foundation leader — part of a program by the former President’s non-profit to help participants with coaching and “practical skill building for social change” — Manuel said he considered water an important tool for social justice.

Manuel has now been reassigned to another position. But in announcing his reassignment, the Department of Land and Resources defended Manuel.  

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In a statement that was not attributed to anyone, DLNR said Wednesday that Manuel was being re-deployed to a different DLNR division. 

“The purpose of this deployment is to permit CWRM and the Department to focus on the necessary work to assist the people of Maui recover from the devastation of wildfires,” the statement said. “This deployment does not suggest that First Deputy Manuel did anything wrong. DLNR encourages the media and the public to avoid making judgments until all the facts are known.”

The Attorney General for Hawaii has been asked by the governor to review all the actions in response to the fire. One has to wonder if they'll do an honest review of the matter and hold people accountable. But if in fact, Manuel did delay water in the face of the raging fire as the reports state, reassignment is too good for him.

There will be more than just reassignment that he might have to face. All the people who suffered so much will have a lot more to say on the matter when it comes to him. Unfortunately, there seem to have been so many failures in response to the fire; there are a lot of actions they're going to have to look into here. 

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