2012-11-21 13.27.52 smaller
Bill Tam addresses the water commission

Monsanto water case is a test for new commission

"Our tutu taught us to pule. You pray for rain. In farming there are no guarantees. These guys want a guarantee." – Walter Ritte

Ikaika M Hussey

The state water commission today again postponed decision-making on whether biotech giant Monsanto should be granted a duplicate water use permit in Kunia. The commission, comprising five new members, holds the water code in its hands with its pending decision. At stake is whether large companies can step in front of other water users to protect their investments.

“Everyone else has the same claim, so this could easily double the amount of granted water. It doesn’t mean they get a right above everybody else,” water expert and commission staffer Bill Tam said.

Tam’s written response to the Monsanto application lays out the problem:

From an applicant’s perspective, a back-up permit is simple, practical, convenient, and precautionary. Why would landowner not seek such insurance and protection?

But the permit, Tam says, would lead to double-counting of allocated water rights, which could squeeze out other users. The Board of Water Supply, for example, raised concerns about being forced to limit potable water – water for humans to drink – if this permit were taken to its logical conclusion.

Walter Ritte, a community leader from Molokai, said, “In farming there are no guarantees. These guys want a guarantee.”

But Monsanto is not a typical agriculture company. Their assets are intellectual property, and they have invested millions in the research and development of that property. So it’s no surprise that their approach is notably different than a taro farmer; they aren’t making food, they’re licensing technology.

Monsanto attorney Yvonne Izu, a former deputy director of the water commission, said that they ‘won’t sue’ to protect their investments, but the $47 billion company has other ways to secure its interests. The question is whether this new commission will allow it to happen.

An earlier version of this post indicated that Monsanto supporters are seated behind Bill Tam in the photo. That notation has been removed.