Meet Kaleo Manuel: The Government Official Who Refused To Release The ‘Sacred’ Water During The Maui Fire

During the inferno that devastated part of the island of Maui, wiping entire towns off the map and possibly killing more than a thousand people (once a full assessment can be made), people on Maui begged state officials to allow West Maui stream water to be diverted to fill up reservoirs for firefighting. That request went to M. Kaleo Manuel, Deputy Director of Hawaii’s Commission on Water Resource Management, and he delayed approval of that water for five hours – five hours in which the once-contained fire exploded...

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y the time the approval was received, workers were unable to reach the siphon release so that the water could be diverted. Now we’re learning that Manuel, an Obama Foundation Leader for the Asia Pacific Region, is a climate change activist and DEI devotee who’s said, “Like, we can share [water], but it requires true conversations about equity.”

Glenn Tremble with the West Maui Land Company gave the chronology in a letter sent to Manuel, and obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

According to the letter, although the initial fire was contained at 9 a.m., there were reports of fallen power lines, fierce winds, outages and low reservoir levels, prompting the company to reach out to the commission to request approval to divert more water from streams so it could store as much water as possible for fire control.

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. Communications were spotty, the letter said, and the company had already tried unsuccessfully to contact the one downstream user.

According to the Star-Advertiser, locals reported that the fire moved so fast and burned so hot that “water was spewing out of melting pipes and depressurizing the lines that also supplied the fire hydrants.” Tremble said that once approval was received to divert more water, it wasn’t possible to do so because of the fire.

“At around 6:00 p.m., we received CWRM’s approval to divert more water,” Tremble wrote. “By then, we were unable to reach the siphon release to make the adjustments that would have allowed more water to fill our reservoirs.

“We watched the devastation unfold around us without the ability to help. We anxiously awaited the morning knowing that we could have made more water available to MFD if our request had been immediately approved.”

Tremble’s letter said it is unknown whether filling the reservoirs at 1 p.m. would have ultimately made a difference.But “we know that fires spread quickly. We know that we need to act faster during an emergency. We know that the community we serve relies on the water as a defense from spreading fire. We know that we must have water available for MFD before MFD needs it. We know we can do better. We’re all in this together.”

The governor, Josh Green, hinted that the horrible decisions of Manuel, and perhaps other local officials, might even be criminal. The state attorney general is getting involved. Check out his comments as reported in the Civil Beat:

“One thing that people need to understand especially those from far away is that there’s been a great deal of water conflict on Maui for many years,” Green said. “It’s important that we’re honest about this. People have been fighting against the release of water to fight fires. I’ll leave that to you to explore.”

“We have a difficult time on Maui and other rural areas getting enough water for houses, for our people, for any response,” Green added. “But it’s important we start being honest. There are currently people still fighting in our state giving us water access to fight and prepare for fires even as more storms arise.”

Green said the state is in the midst of a “comprehensive review” by Attorney General Anne Lopez of decisions made before and during the firefighting efforts. “There will be multiple reviews at every level,” he said.

State legislators knew this was a serious issue for West Maui and failed to act.

In 2022, two Maui senators, Gil Keith-Agaran and Lynne DeCoite, introduced a measure to push DLNR to allow fresh water to be used to fight fires and pointed to West Maui as being particularly vulnerable.

The bill noted that “in 2019, West Maui suffered from an active fire season in which wildfires scorched twenty-five thousand acres of land.” It would have required DLNR to “cooperate with the counties and reservoir owners to develop protocols and agreements for the use of reservoir waters for fire safety purposes.”

Specifically, the measure said, “The protocols and agreements shall address the emergency use of reservoir waters for prevention, control, and extinguishment of fires while taking into account the various competing uses of reservoir waters.” The bill died without a hearing.

In a video posted to X early Thursday, Manuel shares his beliefs about water, religion, and equity.

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Mr. Manuel “balked” at the requests. The Civil Beat continues:

Specifically, according to accounts of four people with knowledge of the situation, M. Kaleo Manuel, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner and DLNR’s deputy director for water resource management, initially balked at West Maui Land Co.’s requests for additional water to help prevent the fire from spreading to properties managed by the company.

According to the sources, Manuel wanted West Maui Land to get permission from a taro, or kalo, farm located downstream from the company’s property. Manuel eventually released water but not until after the fire had spread. It was not clear on Monday how much damage the fire did in the interim or whether homes were damaged.

Manuel declined to be interviewed for this story. DLNR’s communications office said in an email that it was supporting the state’s emergency communications response and “unable to facilitate your inquiry at this time.”

We often talk about how left-wing policies are not only dangerous but also deadly. Look no further than misguided programs like “Defund the Police,” the ghastly “bail reform” program, or the cult-like belief in climate change. All of these programs, among others, have led to death and destruction across the country. Sadly, the tragic consequences of these policies became painfully clear in Maui, where a deadly and devastating fire tore through the island, destroying nearly everything in its path. While there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding the fires and a multitude of theories, one thing we know for certain is that a climate change zealot and Hawaii official named M. Kaleo Manuel refused to release so-called “sacred” water, a decision that contributed to the deaths of over 106 people.

Manuel said:

The commission is responsible…to protect and manage all water resources in the state. One water is … looking at it from a holistic system perspective, and that’s not any different than how Hawaiians traditionally manage water. You know, in essence we treated — Native Hawaiians treated water as one of the earthly manifestations of a God… and so that reverence for a resource and that reciprocity in relationship was something that was really, really important to our worldview and well-being, right, living in an island and isolated from other civilizations.

So I think where it shifted to today or over time is that we’ve become used to looking at water as something which we use and not necessarily something that we revere as that thing that gives us life, right. I mean, to me it’s a shift in value set, and if we can start to really look at how we as humans, in an island, can reconnect to that traditional value set. So really my motto is always like, let water connect us and not divide us. Like, we can share it, but it requires true conversations about equity.

Yes, water is something we all revere as that thing that gives us life, and it also protects our lives, and the lives of animals and plants, from fire. Did Manuel allow his view of West Maui Land Company as a developer to cloud his approval process? 

Manuel’s biography on the CWRM website states:

Kaleo was born and raised on the Island of Hawai‘i and currently resides in Mānoa, O’ahu. He is currently serving his second term as the Deputy Director for the State of Hawai‘i, Commission on Water Resource Management tasked with administering the State Water Code created in 1987. He is an ‘ōlapa and ho‘opa‘a in Hālau Pua Ali‘i ‘Ilima, completing his traditional ‘ūniki rites with Kumu Hula Victoria Holt-Takamine in 2017. Kaleo also holds a B.A. in Hawaiian Studies, a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning, and a Graduate Certificate in Historic Preservation, all from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Kaleo began his professional planning and public service career at the State of Hawai‘i, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Evolving from a land use focus, over the past 10 years, Kaleo has focused on bringing planning and indigenous knowledge to the fields of water advocacy and management in Hawai‘i. Kaleo is one of 200 inaugural Obama Leaders representing the Asia-Pacific region with the Obama Foundation.

Putting to use indigenous knowledge about land use/management and water management is a good thing, and if had been applied to land use/forest management the devastation we’re now seeing might have been prevented. But there is nothing about indigenous knowledge of water advocacy and management that should lead one to delay in an emergency.

Of course, Manuel isn’t the only failed leader to blame in this. Turns out the emergency management head and the police chief are just as incompetent.

In this case, it turns out that “elevating native and indigenous ways of knowing” turned out to be a huge disaster. The “ancient wisdom and traditional ecological knowledge of native peoples” apparently involves not using water to stop the spread of deadly wildfires. The blatant and profound malice and negligence arising from ideological stupidity in this situation is so severe that it must be considered criminal. Officials like Mr. Manuel should be sitting in jail, reflecting on how their radical left-wing beliefs contributed to the devastation and loss of so many innocent lives. ✪

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