RHC Update

Resilient Hawaiian Communities Update:  Completing Resiliency Plans 

Sean Aronson, Post-J.D. Legal Fellow

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As the Resilient Hawaiian Communities (RHC) initiative draws to a close, the two project communities are busy preparing their final products for the public, their friends, and most importantly, their neighbors.  Each community – Kailapa Homestead on Hawaiʻi Island and Waiehu Kou Homestead on Maui – will complete a resiliency plan by the end of 2018 that will serve as a roadmap for the future and allow them to engage even more community members in the implementation of the goals they worked so hard to set.  The objective of the RHC initiative is to build capacity within two Native Hawaiian communities through the creation of a community driven resiliency plan.  The plans will integrate the latest climate research with the specific place-based solutions the communities identify to best prepare for the ecological impacts anticipated as a result of climate change. 

For the last nine months, the communities have been focused on the planning and community engagement phases to gather input and information to include in the plans.  This has included holding community meetings, reaching out to specialists with expertise in various subject matters, and assembling a team to tackle the challenging task of putting into words all that they have learned.  Due to the sheer volume of information they have gathered, both communities have settled on producing two separate documents.  First, the communities are compiling a larger, more comprehensive resource library they can draw from for future needs, such as grant applications, and presentations to the Hawaiian Homes Commission.  Second, the communities are preparing a shorter document that will be the public version of the larger library, and will prioritize a visual approach to community resiliency, featuring photos, illustrations, and graphic depictions.  This document will be used to educate community members and engage the public and other community groups on key issues.

Each community has prioritized a few areas or paths to help them adapt to the coming climate effects.  For Kailapa, that pathway involves securing additional freshwater (potable and non-potable) resources for the future. As the legal fellow, I was tasked with researching how the community could access the surface water that flows mauka of their community.  I was able to confirm that in the early 1970s, a large 16-inch pipe was installed by the State (Department of Land and Natural Resources) with the intention of bringing water down the mountain to the not-yet-built Kailapa Homestead.  But when the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, the new regulations required for making surface water potable meant that the project was now cost prohibitive. Consequently, the pipe and all other water infrastructure was abandoned and Kailapa is today left without a reliable water supply.  The Department of Hawaiian Homelands purchases Kailapa’s potable water needs from the adjacent Kohala Ranch at a very high price.

On Maui, the critical pathway for resilience was less focused on natural resources and more on human resources. The Waiehu Kou Homestead community in the past had struggled to build capacity and maintain leadership.  The RHC project has allowed them to grow that capacity and engage not just members of their own community, but also reach out to people and groups in their surrounding area that are doing similar work that can be leveraged through the efforts of Waiehu in their planning for the RHC project.  In addition, Waiehu is also producing a series of short videos that document how the community approached these difficult questions.

With differing approaches, both communities have put themselves in much better positions to deal with the very significant impacts of a warming planet. Now, implementing their chosen pathways towards climate resilience becomes the priority – no easy task. Wish them luck!