LIHUE — Kauai Island Utility Cooperative is moving toward securing a long-term lease for use of two water diversions in the Wailua watershed.
KIUC has submitted an environmental assessment to the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.
“This is a critical step in the application process,” stated KIUC’s President and Chief Executive Officer, David Bissell. “We will await additional guidance from DLNR on the steps moving forward.”
They’ve been using the water for their hydroelectric facilities via a short-term revocable permit that the Board of Land and Natural Resources has been renewing since 2003.
In 2004, KIUC applied for the long-term lease for use of the water and 15 years later KIUC staff is finally checking off the list of requirements for securing that lease.
An EA looks at the environmental consequences of projects or future developments before they’re implemented or built.
And in addition to the EA, KIUC is asking the DLNR to give them a list of everything else they must do to get the long-term lease approved.
KIUC uses water from diversions at North Fork Wailua and Waikoko Stream, together referred to as the “Blue Hole Diversion,” to maximize production from its Waiahi hydropower plants.
The Upper and Lower Waiahi plants have been in operation for nearly 100 years, KIUC says. Use of power from these hydro facilities allows the utility to avoid the burning of 675,000 gallons of diesel a year, and are among the cooperative’s lowest cost sources of electricity.
KIUC estimates it saves $1.7 million a year when operating at full capacity.
“Keeping the Waiahi plants in operation is good for the environment and good for our members’ pocketbooks,” Bissell said. “With the 100 percent renewable energy mandate adopted by the state of Hawaii, we need to build a diverse portfolio of renewable resources that can be used responsibly to provide safe, reliable power to our members.”
Some on Kauai have spoken out against the use of the diversions for the Waiahi plants because they say not enough water is replaced back into the streams after the diversion, impacting the ecosystem and reducing the amount of water left for agriculture down the line.
Bridget Hammerquist, of Friends of Mahaulepu, has been working with the group opposing the use of the two diversions for hydroelectric power. She says the Hawaii Environmental Protection Act requires KIUC to submit a stronger analysis of the impacts of the system to secure the long-term lease — an Environmental Impact Statement instead of just an EA.
The difference between the two is that an EA doesn’t focus on the cumulative impacts of the project as well as nearby projects and developments.
“EIS is a minimum,” Hammerquist said. “It is state land with endangered species, more than one protected habitat means they have to do an EIS at a minimum.”
Others have also voiced concerns, like Anne Fredrick of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action and Kauai community member Hope Kallai, that the diversions don’t contribute to equitable sharing of water.
KIUC points out the EA document includes cultural, flora and fauna and socio-economic studies. It will be published by the Office of Environmental Quality Control in the Environmental Notice once it is submitted by DLNR.
“We have done extensive studies, resolved a contested case filing, restored stream flow and have collaborated with numerous agencies at the local, state and federal level over the past 15 years in pursuit of the lease,” Bissell said.
He pointed out that while the state has not fully defined the process and timeline for issuing water leases, he is hopeful that action on the EA can be taken prior to the end of 2019.
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.