LIHUE — The state Board of Land and Natural Resources voted 4-3 Friday to renew a revocable water-diversion permit for Kauai Island Utility Cooperative’s hydroelectric plants that utilize water from Mt. Waialeale.
The diversion allows a portion of the water to flow from the North Fork of the Wailua River through a series of ditches to the Upper and Lower Waiahi hydroelectric plants, according to KIUC.
The hydros and ditch infrastructure were built in the 1920s by Lihue Plantation Company, and have enabled diversified agriculture to continue in the Wailua and Kalepa areas to this day, KIUC said in a press release.
“We are pleased that the holdover was granted and will continue to work with the state in pursuit of a long-term lease for the Blue Hole diversion,” stated KIUC’s President and Chief Executive Officer David Bissell.
The permit allows KIUC to operate two hydroelectric facilities that contribute 1.5 megawatts of energy to the island’s renewable portfolio.
The Kia‘i Wai ‘O Wai‘ale‘ale coalition, along with community groups Friends of Maha‘ulepu, HAPA and the Sierra Club, said KIUC and Grove Farm are illegally using 30 million gallons or more of water per day for the hydros, and on days when there’s no rain, the streams are dry.
About 13 citizens from Kauai testified against the permit renewal at the hearing in Honolulu, claiming the diversion of six streams by KIUC was illegal.
“It was a big day for Kauai,” said Bridget Hammerquist, president of Friends of Maha‘ulepu.
The water grab, the environmental groups said, deprives state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries of their rights to live on their land, and many plants and animals of their necessary stream-flow-dependent habitats, including the pupu wa lani/Newcomb snail, which only exists on Kauai and is on the endangered species list.
On Friday, KIUC’s permit to use the water was up for its annual renewal.
The coalition says BLNR, along with KIUC, have ignored state law regarding the renewal process for over a decade.
Bissell said the hydro facilities are KIUC’s lowest-cost source of generation, and displace the use of 500,000 gallons of diesel every year. They assist in the delivery of reliable power to around 24,000 customers, virtually every household and business on Kauai.
“These hydroelectric plants are an important component in KIUC’s overall strategy to meet the state of Hawaii’s mandate of reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2045,” Bissell said.
But, according to the environmental groups, on days there’s no rain, the streams go dry.
“KIUC has been operating 100 percent base-flow diversions, causing streams to go completely dry below the diversion on days when there’s no rain, of Waialeale streams since 2003,” Hammerquist said.
The continued renewal of the permit, according to the environmental coalition, is in violation of state law.
“Since 1991, the Hawaii Constitution has mandated that no permits, revocable or otherwise, can be granted until an applicant has conducted public hearings, received approval of a conservation district use permit, had an EIS (environmental impact statement) completed and accepted, and has received the approval of the governor and Legislature,” Hammerquist said.
The coalition states that under their revocable permit, KIUC diverts 100 percent of the base flow from six streams fed by Mt. Waialeale rainfall, which is being done without the lease that is mandated by the Hawaii Constitution and state statute.
“Similar to the Superferry problem and without informing the public, BLNR and the department (of Land and Natural Resources) have ignored this critical statutory language for more than 14 years,” Hammerquist said.
“Not only is a lease required, but under the law since 1991 a revocable permit may not extend for more than one year,” she said.
Bissell said KIUC understands and shares the concerns of community members regarding the preservation of cultural resources, wildlife and the river ecosystem associated with the diversion.
“Since applying for the long-term lease in 2004, KIUC has conducted environmental studies and has worked closely with the staff of the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs,” he said.
The cooperative, Bissell said, is providing information to the Commission on Water Resources Management in support of its efforts to establish appropriate interim instream flow standards for the Wailua River.
“We understand from CWRM’s testimony today that they may be ready to release a draft of their IIFS recommendations as early as March,” said Bissell. “KIUC has been assisting CWRM in its data-collection efforts and we look forward to participating in that important community discussion.”