KAPA‘A — Wearing rain boots up to her knees and a waterproof jacket, Kim Murriera trudges through the mud, sinking with each step she takes in her yard.
Murriera, holding a notebook she’s diligently logged every conversation with experts into, points out the obvious pools of water.
“This is all moving water,” Murriera said. She walks to the side of the house and points to a deep hole underneath. “I have a sump pump that drains that hole every 90 seconds.”
This all started Feb. 5, when three water spouts erupted in different locations below her stilted home and in her backyard. These are not natural springs.
That morning, she turned off the main water valve for two hours. The water continued to flow. By the end of that first day, seven county Department of Water employees assessed the property.
In the weeks since this started, she hasn’t gotten any clear answer as to why this is happening from experts who’ve visited her Kahuna Road property. That includes visits from the county, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, a plumber, hydrologist and other engineers.
Murriera’s lived on Kahuna Road for about two decades, and on her property for about eight. Nobody, not Murriera, neighbors or past landowners have seen this before. Nor has engineer John Wehrheim of Pacific Hydro, Inc.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, so I was puzzled,” Wehrheim said.
Research of Kahuna Road and Akulikuli Bridge, which the county replaced in 1989, revealed a PVC pipe beneath the bridge.
“Then I saw that PVC drain line gushing water out of the bridge abutment,” Wehrheim said. He estimates it’s pushing out about one cubic foot of water per second, “That’s an enormous flow.”
That pipe from the bridge, Wehrheim explained, is meant to relieve bridge pressure, and normally it should only be dripping or dry. So that flow could be a result of something farther down the line from that’s pushing water underneath Kahuna Road onto Murriera’s property.
The state land across the road from Murriera’s property has an old ditch-irrigation easement on it.
“So that makes me suspicious, or it makes me wonder if some pipeline, post-plantation or from the era of drip irrigation, is buried in that old ditch,” Wehrheim said.
Brad Seymour, Kaua‘i branch manager of Seymour Resources Hawai‘i, which manages the East Kaua‘i Irrigation System, also visited the property late last week.
“When there’s a water issue, we typically get called in to give it attention,” Seymour said.
Seymour said he was dispatched because of the abandoned irrigation ditch nearby, which he confirmed is currently dry, and that all engineering aspects seem to be fine.
“The fact that you have that much water being discharged from the pipe continuously is very concerning,” Seymour said. “That pipe is nowhere near the surface. If we have that much water collecting constantly at the base, there needs to be some attention. Water is known to have catastrophic effects if infrastructure is left to rot.”
But nothing has been confirmed yet, according to spokespeople from DOW and DLNR, as well as Department of Public Works Acting County Engineer Troy Tanigawa.
“The county has not identified the source. However, we have been made aware of information from third parties involved in assessing the flow of water to the property,” Tanigawa said Friday. “The information indicates with high certainty the water is coming from an abandoned irrigation system on state land under Department of Land and Natural Resources jurisdiction.”
DLNR Kaua‘i District Land Agent Wesley Matsunaga visited Murriera’s property Thursday.
“It is not yet known what is the cause of the underground seepage that is causing Ms. Murriera’s property to flood,” Matsunaga said. DLNR dispatched a hydrologist after Matsunaga’s visit.
“A resolution will come only after the source of the water can be confirmed so proper actions may be taken,” Matsunaga said. “I’m hoping that the county and state experts/engineers can collaborate to determine a resolution, as time is of the essence.”
Tanigawa said the county is on board to help if asked.
“At this time, the available information indicates the source of the water is DLNR lands, and we are prepared to assist the DLNR if requested,” Tanigawa said.
On Monday, DOW will conduct a service shutdown to investigate the issue by allowing crews to assess the underground waterlines near the property, a DOW spokesperson said.
This shutdown was rescheduled from last Thursday and Friday due to weather. DOW has already determined that the water isn’t chlorinated, a spokesperson from the DOW said, so that means “the cause may not be from DOW’s system.”
“Everyone that has a degree, everyone that has intelligence about water, is saying that the road and the bridge are in danger,” Murriera said. “And I would think that would be enough to get equipment out here to start investigating.”
Murriera’s not trying to fix blame. She understands her property is at the lowest point, next to the stream and bridge, but all the signs have pointed to different factors. While there have been heavy rains for the last week, the forecast was clear the days before the spouts of water popped up.
“Everyone is saying that the foundation of my house is already compromised,” Murriera said.
Wehrheim has proposed a small trench and filtration system that will cut off the water from seeping into Murriera’s property, and a permit for that could take longer than the life Murriera’s house has left.
Researching highly-technical words and schematics, conducting site visits and wading through explaining herself over and over again has been a full-time job.
“I’m very overwhelmed,” said Murriera, who is looking for a lawyer. “When all the departments go ‘Not my problem,’ then nobody’s ever getting the puzzle together.”
The sump pump that’s beneath her house has stopped working several times.
“I’ve had to go repair it a few times, and last time I couldn’t get back up because the mud was caking and moving so much,” Murriera said. “The saturation and the caking is increasing every minute.”
On the phone with a county worker last Thursday, Murriera is dismissed as she tries to express urgency.
At the end of the call, Murriera says she’ll forward her detailed timeline. The worker, who the state had told her to contact just hours before, said they cannot make any decisions and they’ll forward her email onward and hangs up.
Murriera sighs as the wind outside starts to blow, indicating rain will start soon, which will just add to the underground seepage eating away at her property.
“Every time it rains, I go into full anxiety,” Murriera said. “I’m trying to save my house and I’m busy in this complete nightmare of a labyrinth with trying to get people to respond.”