Though the rains continue, dams are safe, officials say

Anxiety levels continue to rise as the rain continues to fall, leaving many wondering if what occurred in Kilauea could be repeated in their region of the island.

State and local officials assure all residents that dams on Kaua’i have been inspected, and reinspected, and are being managed in accordance with the weather. “Basically, there is no immediate threat,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, state adjutant general, yesterday.

“What we need to continue to do is monitor the levels. The owners need to keep an eye on the levels and reduce the levels in advance, to get a head start on the rainfall.

“That is being done, and all levels at this time are manageable,” he said.

The dams and reservoirs on Kaua’i are owned by a mix of private interests and representatives of state agencies.

“The state owns 17 of them,” said Kauai Civil Defense Administrator Mark Marshall.

The remaining 37 are privately owned.

All 54 have been inspected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel, with the assistance of state Department of Land and Natural Resources workers. Lee assures that spillways on all dams are operative.

Team members last week reinspected dams on Alexander Reservoir and Twin Reservoir. Those dams were reinspected after reports of high levels were received by state agencies.

“Alexander and Twin dams are not in imminent danger of failure, and the water level is low in both dams,” said Bob Masuda, deputy director of the state DLNR.

Alexander Dam is owned by officials of Kauai Coffee Co., and rests on Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. land. The reservoir is above the community of Kalaheo. Twin Reservoir is owned by Bette Midler, and sits above a wetland near Kapa’a.

“There is no cause for alarm,” Masuda said Wednesday of the two dams.

Alexander Reservoir feeds into Wahiawa Stream that flows through open land to the west of Kalaheo. The stream dumps into Wahiawa Bay nearer to Port Allen than Kalaheo.

Twin Reservoir feeds into a vast wet-land on undeveloped land owned by Bette Midler. The runoff eventually flows into the Waika’ea Canal.

“I flew over Alexander and saw that there are some homes, but they are far away from where the water would flow,” said Lee, about a flight he took with U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai’i.

Monitoring and managing the levels is the key to not having a repeat of what occurred with the Ka Loko Reservoir, Lee said. Though officials still don’t know exactly why the Ka Loko failure occurred, everything in their power is being done to ensure it does not happen again.

The best way to avoid that type of occurrence is “to make sure the excess water flows downstream,” said Lee. “If it gets to a point that they are having a hard time controlling levels, then Kaua’i Civil Defense needs to enact evacuation plans.”

Gregg Morishige, with Kaua’i Civil Defense, said evacuation plans, in the event of a potential dam breach, would be handled in a manner similar to a tidal wave or hurricane warning.

“It would come over the radio or the television, and the best action would be to head for higher ground by any means possible,” Morishige said. “The police and fire department would evacuate the low-lying areas (for those who may have not heard warnings).”

Marshall said that each dam owner is required to have an articulated emergency action plan. The action plans don’t address what those downstream should do, as much as what the dam owner can do in the event of an emergency to avoid a catastrophe.

The plans may include, and address, affected buildings downstream.

Morishige said that Kaua’i Civil Defense officials have maps that show the extent of water flow in the downstream watersheds, and that maps are taken into consideration when devising evacuation plans.

An inspection report of the 54 dams on the island is being compiled, with a planned release next week.

“We need to have everything typed out and compiled, and that is going to take up a little time,” said Masuda.

But, he pointed out that people can rest assured that Alexander and Twin reservoirs, and all others on Kaua’i, have been double-checked.

If problems were to develop, Kaua’i Civil Defense officials would instruct KPD officers to evacuate, with Kaua’i Fire Department firefighters’ assistance, said Marshall.

“We also have outdoor warning sirens,” he said. “There are 54 on the island. We can selectively fire sirens, one or more at a time,” he added.

American Red Cross personnel would also be alerted of an evacuation as well, Marshall said.

He encourages family members to have emergency action plans in place.

During an emergency, Marshall noted, is not the time to be making plans.

He encourages people to make a checklist ahead of time to ensure that nothing is missed in the event of an evacuation.

“But, in the scheme of things, this is a very safe situation for us, regardless of what Mother Nature continues to do with the rain,” Marshall said.

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