Allowing for proper due diligence is time well spent

  • Contributed

    David Bissell is president and CEO of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

In Hawaii, water is a public trust resource. As with all of our natural resources, it must be protected, and its use must be responsibly managed. We have a robust water-management system in the state, under the guidance of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) and the Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM).

Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) is a member-owned, not-for-profit entity, and has worked hard since its inception in 2002 to demonstrate responsible stewardship of our community and our environment. Over the past 10 years we have increased renewable-energy generation to meet more than 50 percent of our energy needs, with a corresponding drop in the use of fossil fuels by 15 million gallons per year.

The use of water to produce hydropower is an important component of KIUC’s renewable-energy portfolio. Eight hydropower plants throughout the island contribute nearly 11 percent of our energy needs. Two of those, the Upper and Lower Waiahi hydropower plants, are owned by KIUC and are by far our lowest-cost source of electricity. In order for KIUC to continue to use these important renewable energy facilities, a state legislative proposal, House Bill 1326 HD2, must be passed.


The Waiahi hydros and the associated ditch system were built in the 1920s by Lihue Plantation primarily for agricultural irrigation purposes, and have been in operation ever since. KIUC has operated the Waiahi hydro plants since 2002 under a revocable permit (RP) issued by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). The RP allows KIUC to divert water from the North Fork of the Wailua River and Waikoko Stream, collectively referred to as the Blue Hole Diversion, in order to provide water flow to the plants for renewable-energy production. We are also required to provide maintenance for the ditch system.

Why is HB 1326 HD2 important?

KIUC is one of 10 RP holders on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island who use diverted water for a variety of purposes, including: public drinking water, agriculture and hydropower. Currently the law requires each of these RP’s to be converted to long-term leases by the end of 2019, or else they will expire without the possibility of renewal. Due to the complexity of the process and numerous other factors, it is unlikely that this deadline will be met for any of the 10 RP holders. HB 1326 HD2 proposes simply to extend the deadline for the RP conversions. In doing so, these important beneficial uses, some of which have been in place for nearly a century, could be preserved.

Why has it taken so long to obtain the lease?

In 2004, within two years of assuming the RP, KIUC applied for a long-term lease for the Blue Hole Diversion. Since then, the cooperative has been actively working with the DLNR and other agencies to fulfill lease-application requirements, including: conducting numerous environmental and cultural studies, resolving a contested-case hearing filed by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and participating in the process of setting an interim instream flow standard (IIFS) for North Fork Wailua and Waikoko. While we are very close to completing an environmental assessment for submittal to DLNR — a critical step in the lease process — it is unlikely that DLNR will complete its review and be ready to adjudicate a lease application by the end of 2019. In fact, even if KIUC were ready to submit its application today, a lease process has yet to be fully defined by DLNR.

Is hydropower a public-trust use?

While hydropower production is not considered one of the state’s four public-trust water uses, it is acknowledged as a beneficial off-stream use. To quote State Water Code, Chapter 174C, §174C-2 (c): “The state water code shall be liberally interpreted to obtain maximum beneficial use of the waters of the State [emphasis added] for purposes such as domestic uses, aquaculture uses, irrigation and other agricultural uses, power development, and commercial and industrial uses.”

Will HB 1326 HD2 allow RP holders to avoid environmental compliance?

No. This bill is written simply to extend the deadline for lease conversion. All applicants will still need to complete proper due diligence as prescribed by law, including satisfying environmental compliance under Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 343.

Is KIUC allowed to dewater the stream if the deadline is extended?

No. KIUC is required under terms of its RP renewal to ensure a minimum stream flow at all times. The minimum flow requirements are equivalent to CWRM’s proposed IIFS of 4 million gallons for North Fork Wailua and 0.8 million gallons for Waikoko Stream.

These hydro facilities are important to all of us. With adequate intake, they can generate up to two megawatts of electricity and allow us to avoid burning 675,000 gallons of diesel each year. They provide reliable power around the clock to our 33,000 members at one-third the cost of diesel. However, they cannot operate at peak efficiency without water from the Blue Hole Diversion.

The state is breaking new ground in its effort to convert these diversion RP’s to long-term leases. As mentioned previously, the lease process has yet to be fully defined by the state, and the RP holders are in various stages of application readiness. We believe it is worth the additional time being proposed in HB 1326 HD2 to enable continued beneficial uses such as agriculture and hydropower, while protecting public trust uses and the ecosystem of the stream.

KIUC does not believe that the deadline should be extended indefinitely. However, a reasonable extension that will allow proper due diligence on the part of applicants, along with well-informed decision-making on the part of the BLNR, is a reasonable request. That’s the essence of HB 1326 HD2.


David Bissell is president and chief executive officer of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.

  1. Lucky we live Kauai March 10, 2019 10:54 am Reply

    Ah, come on, David. You know the truth, why so much misinformation? Let’s see the errors you have made in information:
    1). KIUC did not assume a lease nor an RP. It had already expired in 1995, long before you came along.

    2.) You state that the Waiahi hydro’s can produce up to 2 megawatts of power. Not so, one of your turbines can produce a maximum of 0.7 megawatts and the other 0.8 megawatts. That’s a maximum of 1.5 megawatts. It’s written on your turbines, FYI.

    3). KIUC’s RP is only for hydro power, even if you pipe it to Grove Farms for their water treatment plant. What is your agreement with Grove Farms? Also, why does KIUC get income from agriculture? Are you selling water to Ag?

    4). Your RP doesn’t end at the end of 2019! It’s over at the end of June 2019.

    5). HB 1326 HD2 would give you an extra seven years to do your EIS and cultural studies. RP holders were already given a 3 year extension by the legislature. KIUC has had over 14 years to get your EIS and Cultural studies completed and approved for a new lease, now you want another seven years.

    6). You stated KIUC has been conducting numerous environmental studies and cultural studies. The very first step in getting the required EIS completed is filing a public notice with the Office of Environmental Quality Control (OEQC). KIUC has not even done that, why? You will never get your EIS approved without letting the public know through an EISPN. The public has the right to comment on the accuracy of your EIS and the impact of your project.

    7). You stated that KIUC is to ensure minimum stream flow in the Waikoko and Wai’ale’ale Stream at all times. Yet your figures of how much that is and how much is required of you are wrong! It’s 4 million gallons for Wai’ale’ale and 1.6 million gallons for Waikoko. How can we expect those doing the work for KIUC on the streams to get it right if, the CEO and President can’t get it right. Currently there is zero flow in the Waikoko, there goes your ensure of minimum flow at all times.

    8). There is enough water to run your hydros from all the other Grove Farms diversions that feed into your hydros without the Blue Hole diversions. Why did you tell BNLR that you didn’t know how much water you needed to run your hydros? Maybe we need a new CEO that can answer such simple and basic questions.

    9). You quoted the State Water Code Chapter 174C on other beneficial uses. You failed to quote the part where it says that is after all Public Trust beneficiaries are given water. There are several hawaiian taro farmers that are relying on rain water for there taro fields as the stream is being diverted by KIUC. They come before KIUC.

    10). You stated that KIUC has increased renewable-energy generation by more than 50 % over the past ten years. Why has my energy bill not reflected that increased? Our rates are 17% higher than Oahu.

    I have one question for you. You run a small power cooperative with approximately 23,000 accounts. Why is your salary greater by $200,000 than that for President of the United States?

    1. a. kauaian March 11, 2019 5:38 pm Reply

      Lucky we live Kauai, thank you for your articulate, informative comments in which you back up your statements with verifiable facts. KIUC, allegedly a cooperative owned by its members, shows zero indication that it, in fact, operates with the best interests of its members in mind. Paying utility rates among the highest, if not in fact the highest in the country, and paying an outrageous salary to its CEO, for no quantifiable return to its members, should raise a red flag requiring further investigation of the organization and its leadership.

  2. rk669 March 11, 2019 5:39 pm Reply


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