M. Kaleo Manuel: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

kaleo manuel

LinkedIn/Getty Kaleo Manuel (l) and the Maui wildfire aftermath.

M. Kaleo Manuel is the Deputy Director for the Commission on Water Resource Management in Hawaii, according to his LinkedIn page and the State of Hawaii.

He has been accused by Hawaiian news sites of delaying the release of stream water in Maui that could have been used to combat the deadly Maui wildfire. According to CNN, at least 111 people died in the Maui wildfire.

“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 state of Hawaii’s website says. “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.”

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Kaleo Manuel Is Accused of Delaying State Permission to Use West Maui Stream Water, Which May Have Hindered Abilities to Save Lahaina Town From the Wildfire, Reports Say

lahaina fire

GettyAn aerial image shows a destroyed home and vehicle.

According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, “a delay in state permission to use West Maui stream water” may have harmed the ability of firefighters to stop the wildfire from destroying Lahaina town in Maui.

On the day after the fire, the newspaper reported, the West Maui Land Co. Inc. “sent a letter to Deputy Director M. Kaleo Manuel of the Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management, or CWRM” that explained the problems that led to the “delaying the diversion of streams to fill reservoirs with water being made available to fight the fire.”

The company wanted to “divert more water from streams” for fire control, the newspaper reported. But CWRM “asked the company whether the Maui Fire Department had requested permission to dip into the reservoirs and directed it to first inquire with the downstream user to ensure that his loi and other uses would not be impacted by a temporary reduction of water supply,” the newspaper reported.

The approval from CWRM came in at 6 p.m., but it was too late, the newspaper reported.

Honolulu Civil Beat made similar claims, reporting that, on August 8, 2023, “a state water official delayed the release of water that landowners wanted to help protect their property from fires. The water standoff played out over much of the day and the water didn’t come until too late.”

Four sources who were not named in the article told Honolulu Civil Beat that it was Manuel who “initially balked at West Maui Land Co.’s requests for additional water to help prevent the fire from spreading to properties managed by the company.”

The story continued: “Manuel wanted West Maui Land to get permission from a taro, or kalo, farm located downstream from the company’s property. Manuel eventually released water but not until after the fire had spread.”

Manuel declined to comment for either story.

2. Kaleo Manuel, Who Has a Master’s Degree in Urban & Regional Planning, Has Been Deputy Director for the Commission on Water Resource Management Since 2019

maui wildfire

GettyDestroyed buildings and cars are seen in the aftermath of the Maui fire.

On his LinkedIn page, Manuel writes that he has served as deputy director for the Commission on Water Resource Management since 2019 and is based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Before that he was the planning program manager in O’ahu and a planner in Kapolei, Hawaii for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for more than nine years, dating back to 2009.

He has a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a bachelor’s degree in Hawiian studies from the same university.

3. M. Kaleo Manuel Was Born & Raised on the Island of Hawaii & Brings ‘Indigenous Knowledge to the Fields of Water Advocacy & Management in Hawaii’

kaleo manuel

State of HawaiiKaleo Manuel

According to his biography on the state of Hawaii website, Kaleo 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.”

The post reads:

He 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. Kaleo 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. Kaleo 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, Kaleo has focused on bringing planning and indigenous knowledge to the fields of water advocacy and management in Hawai‘i.

4. Kaleo Manuel Was Described by the State as 1 of 200 ‘Inaugural Obama Leaders’ & by the Obama Foundation as Believing that ‘Ancient Wisdom’ Will ‘Help Save the Earth’

GettyObama in 2014.

The state’s biography for Manuel says, “Kaleo is one of 200 inaugural Obama Leaders representing the Asia-Pacific region with the Obama Foundation.”

Manuel praised former President Barack Obama in a LinkedIn comment, writing, “So stoked to have been part of that story with you! His level of authenticity as you said is one of a kind!”

He made the comment in 2023 under a woman’s post that described meeting Obama when she “was asked to present several storytelling workshops for the Obama Foundation.” The post praises Obama’s “authenticity.”

Manuel’s interests on LinkedIn include the Obama Foundation. The Obama Foundation has a page devoted to Manuel which reads, “Kaleo is the Deputy Director of the State of Hawaiʻi Commission on Water Resource Management. He believes that ancient wisdom and traditional ecological knowledge of native peoples will help save the Earth. Kaleo is passionate about elevating native and indigenous ways of knowing in all spheres of discourse and dialogue.”

5. As Many as 1,000 People May Still Be Missing as a Result of the Maui Wildfire

maui wildfire

GettyDestroyed homes and businesses are seen in the aftermath of the Maui wildfires in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 16, 2023. The number of people known to have died in the horrific wildfire that levelled a Hawaiian town reached 106 on August 15, authorities said, as a makeshift morgue was expanded to deal with the tragedy. US President Joe Biden will head to fire-ravaged Hawaii on August 21 to meet with survivors and first responders still hunting for victims, the White House said on August 16.

According to CNN, as many as 1,000 people may still be missing as a result of the Maui wildfire.

“No one has ever seen this that is alive today – not this size, not this number, not this volume,” Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said, according to CNN. “And we’re not done.”

CNN reported that children are among the dead. The cause of the fire is not clear, CNN reported, but Hawaiian Electric power company is “facing scrutiny for not shutting down power lines when high winds created dangerous fire conditions.”

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