Kaleo Manuel, the First Deputy on the state Commission on Water Resource Management is apparently leaving his post after being reassigned following the August wildfires, and then reinstated two months later following an investigation by the Attorney General.
With pressure from the Maui County Council and others, the Hawaiʻi State Commission on Water Resource Management reinstated 1st Deputy Kaleo Manuel on Oct. 9, 2023. He was “reassigned” on Aug. 15 following accusations by a land owner that he delayed access to water during the deadly Aug. 8 Lahaina fire.
Manuel’s removal at the time as a top staff member of the commission angered many Native Hawaiians and conservationists across the state.
During a press conference held by community activists on Aug. 18, Kekai Keahi (one of the two people who brought forth the lawsuit) said the rerouting of the water would not have helped fight the fires because the streams are not connected to county facilities or fire hydrants.
On Tuesday, Water and Land Senate Committee Chair Lorraine R. Inouye (Senate District 1, Hilo, Paukaʻa, Papaikou, Pepeʻekeo) issued a statement regarding Manuel’s departure from the Commission on Water Resource Management, that she said takes effect Jan. 5, 2024.
“I want to express my sincere appreciation for the dedicated service of Kaleo Manuel during his tenure as the Commission on Water Resources First Deputy,” said Sen. Inouye.
She credited manual for “an outstanding track record” as the CWRM First Deputy, saying “he will be truly missed.”
“He was always fair and balanced in his approach to making water conservation decisions. As the CWRM First Deputy, he always kept the ‘Āina, and the water rights of the people of Hawaiʻi front of mind when doing his job. His departure is a loss for the State, as he leaves behind an outstanding track record that reflects his unwavering commitment to the people of Hawaiʻi,” said Sen. Inouye.
Sen. Inouye said Manuel “exhibited a rare combination of expertise and compassion, ensuring that the delicate balance between the needs of our communities and the preservation of the ‘Āina was maintained. He understood the vital role that water plays in our daily lives and the broader implications for our environment,” said Sen. Inouye.
According to Sen. Inouye, Manuel successfully guided DLNR and the Commission on Water Resources through the Red Hill crisis, and in 2022 he implemented the Lahaina Aquifer Sector Area as both a Surface and Ground Water Management Area. In 2019, he was also instrumental in reorganizing the commission, according to Sen. Inouye.
Manuel 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.
Manuel 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. He 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.
Manuel 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, he has focused on bringing planning and indigenous knowledge to the fields of water advocacy and management in Hawai‘i, according to an online bio. Manuel is also one of 200 inaugural Obama Leaders representing the Asia-Pacific region with the Obama Foundation.
The duties of the Deputy Director for Water Resource Management are to administer and implement, under the direction of the Commission, the State Water Code and all rules, and other directives promulgated by the Commission. The Deputy Director must have experience in the area of water resources and is appointed by the Chairperson, subject to the approval of a majority of the Commission.