SLU BIOLOGY PROFESSOR TESTIFIES IN LANDMARK HAWAII WATER CASE HAMMOND -- Southeastern Louisiana University biology professor William F. Font recently testified as an expert witness in a history-making environmental case that pits native Hawaiians against more recent arrivals. Professor Font, an expert on Hawaii's fish and parasite populations, testified on behalf of the Sierra Club in an effort to restore water diverted from Waiahole Stream since the early 1900's for agricultural practices back to its natural state. "This litigation represents one of the most important environmental cases in the entire history of the state of Hawaii," Font said. "As you can imagine, freshwater on an oceanic island is more precious than gold, and legal rights to that water are hotly contested by various economic, agricultural, political and environmental factions." Font said the recent demise of the sugarcane industry on the Island of O'ahu meant that water from the Waiahole Stream no longer had to be diverted to sugarcane irrigation canals. "The Waiahole Irrigation Company," Font said, "was caught dumping this precious water into dry gulches rather than returning it to Waiahole Stream." According to Font, increasing the natural water flow in the stream would greatly improve conditions for native Hawaii stream fish by reducing fish parasites. His parasitology research in the Hawaiian archipelago is supported by a grant from the State of Hawaii's Division of Aquatic Resource. "My parasitology research," said Font, "has provided the people of Hawaii with significant information that my be valuable in helping to protect the environment of this archipelago of oceanic island." The case, he said, is still pending before the state Water Resource Management Commission. In addition to the fish, Font said the question of diverting the water back to its natural stream bed is a problem that has divided native Hawaiians who live on the "wet" side of the Island of O'ahu and non-natives who own large tracks of land on the "dry" side. Although the island's sugarcane industry is dead, he said, landowners want the diversion canals left open because they supply much-needed fresh water to arid land that could be used for future agriculture or development. Native Hawaiians, however, want the diversion canals closed to give them more water to grow their "tara" which is used to produce "poi," a staple in native Hawaiians diet. "It's a very complicated situation," Font said.