U Hawaii hosted woke panel with ousted Maui water management director

M. Kaleo Manuel said during a UH Better Tomorrow Speaker Series last year that there needs to be 'true conversations' about 'water equity.'

A former Obama Foundation Leader, Manuel has recently been under fire for his alleged mishandling and delay of releasing water during Maui wildfires earlier month.

M. Kaleo Manuel, a Hawaii official who allegedly delayed releasing water for over five hours that would have helped landowners during three major Maui wildfires on Aug. 8, previously called for “equity” water resource management during a virtual college panel in 2022.

As the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources investigates Manuel’s mishandling of the wildfires, he has since been reassigned to a new position within the water commission. In October 2022, the University of Hawaii held a “UH Better Tomorrow Speaker Series” on water conservation and management that featured Manuel, who was then the Deputy Director of the Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM), discussing how society no longer views water as “something that we revere” but instead “something which we use.”

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During the panel, Manuel advocated for a collectivist and equity-based approach to water management – similar to that utilized by indigenous Hawaiians.

“There was always this communal ‘you put in and you get out’ … but that’s totally different in this western capitalistic kind of economy that we live in. It’s very destructive individualistic approaches [sic],” said Manuel. 

“My motto is always like ‘let water connect us and not divide us.’ We can share it, but it requires true conversations about equity … water equity,” he stated. 

“How do we, in this island space that we occupy … leave it better, live, coexist with the resources that we have, and then not make that burden again something we pass on to the next generations?,” Manuel said.

In a letter dated Aug. 10, the West Maui Land Company (WMLC) detailed Manuel’s failed response in handling the Maui wildfires.

According to WMLC representative Glenn Tremble, “We reached out to CWRM at around 1:00 p.m. to … request approval to divert more water from the streams so we could store as much water as possible for fire control.” 

“In response, CWRM … directed us first to inquire with the one downstream user to ensure that his lo’i and other uses would not be impacted by a temporary reduction (not elimination) of water supply,” said Tremble. 

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

“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.”

[RELATED: Princeton ‘climate justice’ course applies ‘gender, race, and sexualities’ to ‘environmental issues’] 

In 2019, Manuel served as an Obama Foundation Leader – a program which teaches how to “self-define a values-based foundation for sustained leadership, cultivate relationships with others to catalyze more inclusive, lasting change, and prepare to engage with issues at the systems level.”

In an email exchange with Campus Reform, the University of Hawaii emphasized its lack of affiliation with Manuel.

“The individual in question is not a university employee,” UH Director of Communications Dan Meisenzahl told Campus Reform. “The State of Hawai’i is contracting a third-party private organization to assess the lead up and response to the Maui wildfires.”

Campus Reform also contacted Manuel, CWRM, and WMLC for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

Follow Travis Morgan on X.