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Maui Official’s Ties to Obama Foundation Raise Questions After Decision to Delay Water

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In 2019, the Obama Foundation recognized as a “leader” a Hawaii official who is accused of concealing water from firefighters during a critical phase of the Maui conflagration.

According to KITV, M. Kaleo Manuel, the former deputy director of the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management, has been transferred to a different position pending an investigation into the matter.

West Maui Land Company requested release of the water on August 8, at 1 p.m., during the lethal conflagration; however, Manuel denied the request, stating that he would need to consult with local farmers first.

According to the corporation, he ultimately authorized the release at 6 p.m. that day, as reported by the Star Advertiser.

At least 111 persons perished in the Lahaina area conflagration, making it the deadliest in the United States in over a century.

Additionally, over 2,200 structures have been destroyed or damaged, approximately 86% of which were homes.

In a letter dated August 10, the West Maui Land Company informed Manuel that his commission would not grant permission for the company to divert streams to fill reservoirs, resulting in a significant loss.

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

According to Honolulu Civil Beat, in a statement released on Wednesday, the Department of Land and Natural Resources urged the public not to judge Manuel’s decision-making “until all the facts are known.”

Manuel, according to the DLNR’s website, is “one of 200 inaugural Obama Leaders representing the Asia-Pacific region with the Obama Foundation.”

In a November 2022 simulcast, he stated that indigenous Hawaiians revered water.

“We’ve become used to looking at water as something that we use, and not something that we revere. It’s a shift in value set. We can reconnect to that traditional value set,” he said.

“So really my motto is let water connect us and not divide us,” Manuel added. “We can share it, but it requires true conversations about equity.”

Former President Barack Obama, who grew up in Hawaii, uploaded a video on Monday urging individuals to donate to relief organizations responding to the conflagration.

“The thing about it is at a time like this thoughts and prayer are not enough, we have to step up and we have to help those families and we have to help the people of Lahaina rebuild,” Obama said.

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