LIHUE — Secret Falls has dried up, and so has a sizable portion of Will Leonard’s business.
The waterfall, located a short hike from Wailua River, is the highlight of Leonard’s Rainbow Kayak Tours.
The company typically guides six groups of kayakers down the river each day this time of year, he said.
Right now, the company is averaging about two groups, and they’ve halted the portion of the tour featuring a hike to the falls.
“Kayaking is all fine and dandy, but the waterfall is a huge part of what we do,” Leonard said. “Without the waterfall, none of the companies are going to be worth anything. It’s very clearly not the same tour.”
The waterfall has been dry for about two weeks, according to Leonard.
Rainbow Kayak Tours is one of 11 companies permitted to do tours on the Wailua River.
Prolonged drought is the reason the waterfall is dry, according to Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman Deborah Ward.
Rainfall was about 79 percent of average on the Garden Isle from March to May, according to a U.S. Geological Survey hydrology report. As of May, rainfall near the summit of Mt. Waialeale was below average in 11 of the last 12 months. From June 2014 to May 2015, rainfall was about 71 percent of average.
But Leonard said he’s not sold on the idea that the waterfall’s dry spell is the result of a drought.
Other river users have seen a tractor at the top of the falls as well as a pump system that appears to be diverting the water that ordinarily pools above the falls, Leonard said. Leonard hasn’t seen it himself, but he’s seen cellphone video footage of the purported pump.
“To me it’s a question of, is the water being diverted and does somebody have a right to do that,” Leonard said. “It was drier this winter than it was in the last month and a half, and the falls was good all winter.”
Wailua River tour operators are in talks with county and state officials to get to the bottom of the water problem.
In the meantime, Leonard said, his business, as well as others, are weighing layoffs.
“For us, this is devastating,” said Leonard, who is also partial owner of Ancient River Kayaks, another Wailua River tour company. “If something doesn’t change soon we’re going to have to start laying people off.”
Brittany Lyte, environmental reporter, can be reached at 245-0441.