Of the 14 American Heritage Rivers, the Hanalei, in Hawaii, is undoubtedly the shortest (16 miles) with the least population (478 in the 2000 census). But the Hanalei Watershed Hui, formed in response to the 1998 designation as an American Heritage River, has something to tell all of us about community vision, integrated thinking, and perseverance.
Ahu pua'a is a traditional Hawaiian term for the concept of integrated watershed management. It is sometimes expressed as "ridges to reefs," "white water to blue water," or "summit to sea," all of which clearly and vividly express the connections between rivers and oceans, and the intersections among the diverse smaller streams that come together to form a river.
Like all American Heritage Rivers, the Hanalei Watershed Hui was matched with a federal agency partner for the first five years of the program. For the Hanalei, the U.S. Forest Service was the official Federal partner, but the Environmental Protection Agency also provided support for scientific research. This research, conducted by community members, staff from the University of Hawaii, and the agencies, was driven by community-based concepts that a healthy ecosystem provides necessary resilience in the face of storms and other threats. One of the community members refers to Hanalei, on the north shore of the island of Kaua'i, as "a very small rock in a very big ocean."
Community partnership is a hallmark of all American Heritage Rivers, and of all successful river stewardship in general. But this concept is particularly strong on the Hanalei, where the Hanalei Watershed Hui's home page lists that its work is "guided by Hawaiian and other principles of sustainability and stewardship, integrity and balance, cooperation and aloha, cultural equity and mutual respect." These core values, especially the inclusion of cultural equity and mutual respect, are essential if communities are to move as a whole toward sustainability on their rivers.