KAPAA — Hike at least three hours upstream and into the interior of Kauai’s east side, and you’ll find yourself at the base of the two-tiered Makaleha Falls.
Nearby is what’s known as Makaleha Spring, a pipe that’s normally bubbling with fresh water, flowing to a little stream that continues down the valley.
It’s a well-known fresh water source and a popular stop for hikers in the area— and it’s been dry for about three months.
Word started circulating around Kauai in July that the pipe was dry, and community members started asking questions. Some connected it to new development in the Kealia area.
That’s not the case, though.
Makaleha Spring isn’t actually a spring at all, according to the Kauai County Department of Water, it’s an overflow pipe that leads from the DOW’s Makaleha Tank. Allowing water to flow through that pipe was a symptom of an inefficient water system and the dry pipe is a symptom of a fixed problem.
“Several months ago, we recognized an inefficiency in our operations at our Makaleha wells,” said DOW manager and chief engineer, Bryan Wienand in a statement about the situation.
He continued: “It was determined that we can utilize more gravity flow source from the tunnel. In doing so, we reduce the volume of water we pump, which reduces energy costs and ultimately benefits our ratepayers.”
It also reduces the amount of overflow water to the pipe, the one that people are used to seeing bubbling with what many thought was coming from a natural spring.
“Because the overflow pipe is near a popular hiking trail, it can be mistaken for a regular spring, however it is the overflow pipe, a public drinking water source,” Wienand said.
Kauai resident Nicolai Barca spends ample time in the mountains around Makaleha and said Monday he’s concerned about the low flow in the pipe, but understands the DOW’s perspective.
So, he’s looking to find a middle ground.
“I’ve drafted a petition to allow for some water to be available for the public, but haven’t put it out yet,” he said Monday.
Makaleha Tunnel itself has been a bit of a problem location for DOW for years, as it’s not technically open to the public but is popular with hikers. DOW says they’ve been battling “constant tampering” with the overflow pipe and the tunnel access door for years.
“The overflow pipe is screened to prevent potential sanitary problems for the tunnel water source, and we’ve screened the end of the pipe several times over the years only to have the screen stolen each time,” Wienand said.
In August, DOW found that the tunnel access door had an unauthorized lock on it. Personnel replaced the lock and installed a warning sign indicating it was a public water source.