Shortly after two Kauai residents circulated inflammatory emails about a new water pipeline, a dam diverting water to two Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) hydro plants was vandalized.
Because the action targeted a utility — KIUC Chief Executive Officer David Bissel termed it “a deliberate sabotage of Kaua‘i’s electrical infrastructure” — local law enforcement officials are treating it as an act of domestic terrorism. They have called upon the FBI to investigate.
Given the extent of the vandalism, police suspect more than one person was involved. They apparently used a jackhammer or impact drill to chip a hole about 10 feet wide by 1 foot deep in the concrete, so that water flows through the dam, rather than over it and into a ditch. They also made multiple vertical cuts across the face of the dam.
In the process, concrete rubble and other debris was allowed to fall into the north fork of the Wailua River.
Metal cables and rebar were also left exposed, creating a safety hazard.
“The entire diversion is compromised,” a utility official told me. “It could cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair, and the tab will be picked up by KIUC's members.”
A company that regularly monitors KIUC's hydro infrastructure reported the damage on Oct. 18, and believe it happened in the two weeks prior.
On Sept. 27, Adam Asquith, a taro farmer and Seagrant employee working with Waipa Foundation, sent state aquatic biologist Don Heacock an inflammatory email. It greatly mischaracterized the county Department of Water's plan to construct an 18-inch water main from Kapaia Reservoir to Grove Farm's surface water treatment plant (SWTP):
Heacock then sent the email on to others. Former mayoral candidate Dustin Barca posted the materials on Facebook, calling it a “a threat TO ALL OUR LIVES!!! This is WAR on our people! Everybody get ready to KU'E!!!!"
Dustin's post solicited a slew of comments, including threats and calls to action:
KKCR also got into the act, with Felicia Cowden hosting Asquith and Debbie Jackson, another misinformed water activist, on her show. At the 71-minute mark, Felicia takes a call from a man who says:
There's gonna be hundreds of people going to destroy all their water diversions and restore the natural flow. There are people on this island that are not going to let this diversion because of people and big business and everything and all the county council and all of that. They're not going to wait for that. If the river doesn't start flowing soon, people are gonna destroy the diversions. Local people who have culture that want to do their natural Hawaiian you know...
At this point, instead of denouncing the action, counseling against criminal property damage or cutting the guy off, Felicia interjects, “to correct the stream flow.” To which the guy replies, “Yeah, yeah." Felicia then ends the call with, “Thank you for that important piece. I appreciate that.”
As a bit of background, the water diverted from the North Fork flows into a ditch that supplies the two hydro plants. It's then returned to the South Fork of the Wailua River, some of which goes into the Kapaia Reservoir. The reservoir provides water to taro, flower, vegetable and fruit farmers, and cattle ranchers, as well as the SWTP.
Lihue Plantation created the diversion in 1926 to irrigate its sugar fields, and built the two hydro plants to generate electricity to run its mill. When it went out of business, the electric utility acquired the two hydro plants and maintenance of the ditches above them.
Though KIUC has a state permit that authorizes the diversion, it has been controversial because it can take 100 percent of the North Fork flow at times.
But observers said the vandalism was misguided for a number of reasons, besides its illegality.
First, the diversion is allowed under a month-to-month revocable permit. Due to a recent court ruling, the state is now requiring all those permit holders to apply for a water lease, which includes conducting environmental and cultural studies.
Second, a Kauai resident who met with staff members from the state Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM) last week said the agency was already planning to direct KIUC to alter the diversion so it didn't take 100 percent of the stream flow. Due to court rulings and CWRM decisions, the agency was moving to limit diversions to no more than 50 percent of the median low flow.
Third, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources is currently in the process of setting instream flow standards for East Kauai streams. That's the first step in determining how much water can be diverted without causing environmental harm.
In short, the diversion issue was being sorted out through the state permitting process, which provides extensive public involvement.
Don and Adam were aware of this. So why did they feel the need to fan the flames to create the kind of hysteria that led misguided “aloha aina warriors” to take matters into their own hands?
And when will the KKCR board start paying attention to the rhetoric of its programmers?