Saturday, September 29, 2007

Musings: Kaloko Fall Out

For the first time in days, the summit of Waialeale was clear this morning, although its skirt of fluffy clouds had lifted to obscure its flat top before my walk was pau. As I left my house this morning, the lightest, finest rain fell briefly, a sprinkling of holy water.

The best days, in my opinion, start mauka and end makai, although vice versa is also fine with me. I like nature to be the book ends to my days, which are otherwise spent inside an “electric scab,” to borrow singer Joni Mitchell’s vivid phrase, dealing with human concerns.

Kilauea growers are concerned about water for their crops after the state land board yesterday voted to revoke the permit that allows Kilauea Irrigation Co. to operate the Koloko ditch system that serves about 20 farmers along Waiakalua Road.

These are some of the North Shore’s few real farmers, folks who consistently produce commercial crops in a region where the “Green Acres” model of farming — plant a few fruit trees around your luxurious home to get the ag exemption — prevails.

The board, with the support of Kauai member Ron Agor, ostensibly revoked the permit because Kilauea Irrigation Co. owner Tom Hitch reportedly failed to secure liability insurance — at a cost that Hitch claimed exceeded revenues gained from selling water to the farmers.

An attorney for Jimmy Pflueger, who owns land beneath the Kaloko reservoir, asked the board to revoke the permit, citing safety concerns because the system feeds the reservoir, whose dam broke last year, releasing a torrent of water that killed seven persons downstream.

Hitch, who had the bad luck to purchase the company shortly before the fatal dam breach, has been beset with legal problems and mounting legal fees ever since. Now, under the board’s action, he will also have to shoulder the cost of implementing measures to prevent surface water from entering the ditch system.

That may not be as simple as building a wall to keep water from Puu Ka Ele Stream out of the ditch, as suggested by a state engineer in the staff report to the board.

When I interviewed Hitch last year for a story that ran in Honolulu Magazine (see “Dammed for All Time” in the favorite clips menu at right), he noted that Kaloko reservoir is filled with water collected from 14 streams by two ditches that run for miles — all the way from Kilauea to Aliomanu — along nearby mountain ridges.

If the dam is decommissioned, as Pflueger suggested in the aftermath of the fatal breach, the ditches must be opened, too, Hitch said. “You’re going to be putting water down valleys that haven’t seen water for 125 years. That’s going to be monumental, because we have all these subdivisions in there now.”

The state Water Commission and Departments of Land and Natural Resources and Agriculture do plan to meet with Kilauea farmers to discuss the issue and explore whether farmers can be awarded the stream diversion permit. Kauai County officials, however, had asked the state to do that before moving to revoke Hitch’s permit.

It appears from the land board's action that the state is continuing to deal with the issue of Hawaii’s aging dams and irrigation systems in a piecemeal approach, driven largely by liability concerns, rather than taking a comprehensive look at the whole complicated picture.

1 comment:

Marisa said...

Why Pflueger is not in prison is the greatest mystery of all.