KIUC takes ‘critical step’

submitted photo

This photo shows an aerial view of the lower Waiahai hydroelectric plant.

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

  1. Kip Goodwin July 30, 2019 9:06 am Reply

    From KIUC Management public statements:
    The average increase to ratepayers monthly bill should the hydro plants shut down is “negligible “, a single digit amount.

    The aging hydro plants will shut within 12 years regardless. The lease request for water is for 65 years.

    KIUC has returned a pittance of water to Wai Ale Ale Stream.None at all to Waikato Stream.

    They are in a public accessible forest reserve. It is high time plantation era diversions without clear public benefits are removed, and this lease be denied.

  2. harry oyama July 30, 2019 12:28 pm Reply

    Is it not a fact that the present Kauai’s DLNR is the most corrupt in the State, consisting of mostly retired former State legislatures mainly the descendants of former Japanese immigrant sugar plantation workers whose 3 year contracts expired and should have been deported by King Kaulakaua back to Hiroshima and Okinawa to be decimated by US forces in WWII?

    Now it is ironic that these same illegals who benefited are now deciding the same fate for Hawaiians who use down stream water flow for their own life, being dictated by a corrupt DLNR board who also have $1 dollar year lease swindled from the Hawaiian Crown Lands, which in turn they make huge profits by subleasing at market price?

    The FBI should investigate for these crooks are benefiting and a conflict of interests between Fraud, Waste and Abuse. Too bad the King did not deport them, as they would not be here and this is their way of expressing their “appreciation”.

    1. Min December 19, 2019 7:33 am Reply

      You know you can say your opinion without resorting to hate speech.

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