Secret Falls flowing again

LIHUE — Uluwehi Falls kicked back on Wednesday after two weeks without water.

“The waterfall has miraculously begun to flow again,” Kevin Katzmann, owner of Wailua River Guides, told The Garden Island Thursday. “The waterfall is flowing stronger this morning than it has in weeks.”

A hike to Uluwehi Falls, commonly referred to as Secret Falls, is the crown jewel of many Wailua River kayak tours. When the falls dried up earlier this month, many of the tour companies eliminated the hike to the falls from their tours.

Some reduced ticket prices. Will Leonard, owner of Rainbow Kayak Tours, said he and other companies started weighing employee layoffs.

Environmental regulators pinned the dry spell on prolonged drought.

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 at a meeting with about two dozen people representing kayak tour companies, officials from the Department of Land and Natural Resources fielded claims that water was being diverted from the stream that feeds the falls. Some river users said they 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. Several said they’re not sold on the idea that the waterfall’s dry spell is being caused single handedly by a lack of rain.

So Rebecca Alakai, hydrologist for DLNR’s Commission of Water Resource Management, and Stephen Soares, property manager for DLNR’s Division of State Parks, ventured up into the watershed Tuesday afternoon to investigate the water diversion complaints.

“We didn’t have any change in conclusion,” Alakai said.

A single stream feeds the falls on most occasions, Alakai said. There is another stream that feeds the falls only when the water level is high enough to travel through a tunnel that sends water to the pool at the top of the falls. The water level is currently being kept low for dam safety reasons, she said.

Claims that water is being diverted from the falls are centered around streams that do not feed the falls, Alakai said.

“We’re talking two different watersheds,” she said. “Two different streams. We’re not on the same page at all with the kayak operators.”

Katzmann, the kayak tour owner, said he doesn’t know what caused the falls to go dry. But he said he’s glad to see the water’s return — and he hopes it’s here to stay.

“We did have a bit of rainfall on Tuesday and that has helped,” he said. “If it continues to dry up again that will be one indication that maybe lack of rainfall was the case.”

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