LIHUE — Concerned citizens gathered Thursday to better understand the present flow of Kauai’s inland waters.
“I am against all water diversions, period,” said Puanani Rogers, born and raised in the ahupuaa of Kealia. “This (diversion) is giving harm to our aina, to our staple foods, to the livelihood of our people here.”
More than 50 residents, including flood victims, board members, politicians, doctors and business owners, came to the Lihue Business Administration meeting at Duke’s Canoe Club on Kalapaki Beach for answers.
“I came today to find out who’s responsible for maintaining the streams in Koloa, because that’s where the bulk of the water came that flooded our homes,” said Barbara Garcia, whose home was severely damaged by the recent Koloa flood. “It not only came from the stream, it came from the pasture that is leased by Grove Farms in back of my property. It looked like Wailua Falls.”
Beth Tokioka, communications manager for Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, shared details about the co-op’s Waiahi Hydroelectric System.
She said KIUC’s five hydro facilities produce less than 8 percent of the island’s electricity, generating power to serve nearly 6,000 homes. The Waiahi ditch system diverts water from Waialeale’s Blue Hole to generate 1.5 megawatts of power by pumping water in and out of two of its facilities.
“We are at about 46 percent renewable (energy) generation at this time,” Tokioka said. “It’s a blend of bio-mass, it’s a blend of hydro and a blend of solar. And those are the technologies that are going to get us to that 70 percent goal and potentially that 100 percent goal.”
The Waiahi ditch system was built by Lihue Plantation Company in the 1920s to provide irrigation water for fields along the South Fork of the Wailua River. With the plantation era gone, some continue to question the diversion of sacred waters from Waialeale.
“Plantations, you all pau. So go clean up your mess and return what you stole from us,” Rogers said. “Return all the diversions to its natural flow if at all possible, and if it does not bring harm to people.”
In 2002, a revocable permit was assigned to Kauai Electric (now KIUC), which is tasked with maintaining diversions and ditches that have supplemented downstream water for ranching, drinking and homesteaders and lessees of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
Some area residents are worried that the life-giving water does not take its natural course to the sea.
In 2016, the state passed a law to discontinue water-use revocable permits by the summer of 2019. If a long-term water lease is granted, KIUC will design permanent modifications to release and measure water flows. A required environmental review will assess its impacts on endemic species, like the Hawaiian freshwater goby that spawns in area streams. The co-op ensures DHHL will receive water entitlement and 30 percent of all lease revenues.
Arryl Kaneshiro, county council member and representative for Grove Farm, spoke about the beneficial uses of surface water in Lihue. However, some residents had questions about the recent Koloa neighborhood flooding, the capacity of Waita Reservoir, and maintenance of its connecting ditches.
Kaneshiro said water contractors are out there daily actively managing the reservoirs and water systems.
“Stream maintenance is a very difficult thing,” he said. “You need county, state and federal permits to even touch a stream.”
Other Koloa residents posed concerns about maintenance and capacity of Waita Reservoir, the state’s largest body of inland water. Kaneshiro said the reservoir’s water level was just above 16 feet during the recent storm.
“Typically we run the reservoir between 13 to 16 feet, so it didn’t really increase much,” he said. “Our spillway’s at 21 feet. If it hits the spillway, then water’s coming out of the spillway and heading to a ditch.”
“Waita did not overflow, did not reach its spillway with the last two storm events,” he said. “It did reach its spillway, and that was back in 2006 during the 40 days/40 nights, and it was an unusual rain event. The spillway operated as it was supposed to. Water went out the spillway and went through a ditch.”
Grove Farm inherited and maintains a series of irrigation systems dating back to the plantation days, supplying irrigation and drinking water to island farms and communities. Grove Farm has 65 agricultural tenants in the Lihue area with 3,800 acres of lands in ranching and farming. In 2017, it completed $1.1 million in repairs on the 100-year-old Kapaia Tunnel that feeds the Kapaia Reservoir.
In 2005, a private-public partnership between Waiahi Water Company and the county Department of Water built a facility to process water from the Kapaia Reservoir via the Hanamaulu Ditch system, capable of producing three million gallons of water per day to nearly 15,000 residents.
“Immeasurable is the aloha for our aina,” Rogers added. “Don’t try and measure it in value. It is in our DNA.”
John Steinhorst, reporter, can be reached at 245-0435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.