LIHUE — Kauai Island Utility Cooperative’s draft environmental assessment regarding the Waiahi hydropower plants has been published, and the public has until Nov. 7 to comment on it.
The document is part of the application process to secure a long-term lease for the use of two water diversions in the Wailua watershed called the “Blue Hole Diversion.”
Those diversions support hydroelectric facilities, and have been operating under a short-term, revocable permit that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources has been renewing since 2003.
An EA usually considers the environmental consequences of projects before they’re implemented or built. This one discusses studies done around the already existing diversions, including cultural, flora and fauna and socio-economic concerns.
If the finalized document is accepted, that’ll be another step accomplished in KIUC’s bid to secure a long-term lease for water usage instead of repeatedly renewing the short-term one.
“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,” said David Bissell, KIUC president and chief executive officer, in a Tuesday news release.
He said that while the state still 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.
“This is an important milestone in the lease-application process,” he said. “We hope members of the public and other interested parties will take the time to review the document and provide comments by the deadline of November 7.”
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 burning 675,000 gallons of diesel a year, and are among the cooperative’s lowest-cost sources of electricity, saving members an estimated $1.7 million a year when operating at full capacity.
Opponents to the use of the diversions say they have more of an impact on culture and the natural environment than KIUC is letting on, and that the hydropower plants don’t really save KIUC members much money.
Bridget Hammerquist is one of those opposing the diversions. She maintains there are at least “40 million gallons daily diverted into the two hydros that, at max capacity, can only produce 1% of the island daily power needs.”
“For 1% of our power, is diverting so much of Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale’s water environmentally prudent?” she asked Tuesday. “Hopefully KIUC will consider and act on the public’s comments.”
The document can be accessed on the state Office of Environmental Quality Control website, bit.ly/31ZgcGD, in the latest edition of “The Environmental Notice.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.