Officials probe disappearing waterfall

WAILUA — Two dozen kayak tour operators poured over hydrology maps with state officials Tuesday in hopes of determining why Uluwehi Falls, the crown jewel of the Wailua River kayak tour industry, has dried up.

“We’re coming to you with a problem: The waterfall is not flowing,” said Kevin Katzmann, owner of Wailua River Guides. “Rain is still falling from the sky. Something has clearly changed.”

Stephen Soares, property manager for the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of State Parks, and Rebecca Alakai, hydrologist for DLNR’s Commission of Water Resource Management, ventured up into the watershed in the afternoon to investigate complaints that water is being diverted away from the Uluwehi Falls, commonly referred to as Secret Falls. The officials will report their findings to The Garden Island today.

Though DLNR has said the falls are dry due to a prolonged drought, Soares said there are other variables that could potentially compromise the water that feeds the falls, in addition to drought.

The waterfall has been dry for about two weeks, though heavy rainfall Monday night returned some water to the falls.

“This is concerning to us and we want to understand what’s going on with the falls,” Soares said.

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 most kayak tour operators at the meeting Tuesday said they’re not sold on the idea that the waterfall’s dry spell is being caused single handedly by a lack of rain.

“In 20 plus years of kayak tours operating in Wailua State Park, we’ve been in and out of droughts more significant than what we may or may not be experiencing right now and the waterfall has never turned off,” Katzmann said. “If the waterfall were simply flowing half as much, I think a lack of rainfall might be a little bit more logical. What we’re hearing, that this is simply due to a lack of rainfall, I think simply just doesn’t pass the litmus test of logic.

“There are variables all over, I think we all understand that, but the bottom line is something significant has changed. We need to determine what that is.”

Some river users have photographed 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.

This photographic evidence has been submitted to DLNR by kayak tour operators who are seeking to work with environmental regulators to solve the water problem.

Meanwhile, many of the tour companies have eliminated the hike to the falls from their tours. Some have reduced ticket prices. Will Leonard, owner of Rainbow Kayak Tours, said he and other companies are weighing layoffs.

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