And the Kauai Department of Water (DOW) is looking to develop more of it by drilling a horizontal shaft into the mountains at Kahili, southwest of Lihue.
Though the project, if successful, would double the water capacity in the Kapaa-Lihue area, that's not the goal, said Jan TenBruggencate, KIUC board member/blogger/journalist/public relations consultant, who is doing community outreach for the Limtiaco Co., which has been contracted by Oceanit, the company hired to do the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Instead, the project is intended to eliminate some $2 million in annual pumping costs for the Lihue-Kapaa area by using the mountain as “a storage tank” for a gravity-fed water source. It's being billed as an “energy conservation” project because DOW currently is using electricity generated by fossil fuel to run its pumps.
It's estimated that drilling will cost some $40-$45 million, while the pipeline will be another $30 million. The EIS is $2 million. [Jan has corrected the project cost to $30-$35 million, including the EIS.]
Jan, who recently stopped by my house to check out my top bar hive — he's also a beekeeper — and give me the low down on the project, said Oceanit will also conduct feasibility studies on other alternatives, such as using small hydro plants or solar panels to run the pumps. Those options could be implemented if the EIS shows the drilling isn't feasible.
I asked why DOW wasn't starting with those options, if the goal was truly to eliminate pumping costs rather than develop additional capacity. It seemed to me they would be less risky, and most likely a lot cheaper, while meeting the objective of weaning the utility off fossil fuel.
Jan gave several reasons why DOW wants to drill. It's uncertain whether hydro and solar would be able to generate sufficient electricity to power the pumps, he said, and solar has a limited lifespan, so the panels would have to be replaced. DOW is also wanting to move away vertical wells because “they're more susceptible to chemical contamination from agriculture and drinking water regulations are going to get tougher.” It could cost DOW some $6 million to clean up the Lihue-Kapaa wells to meet these stricter standards.
As for why the DOW is going for a system that could generate some 8 million gallons per day of water, well, if you're going to spend all that money, you might as well make it big “so the system will still be there for the grandchildren,” Jan said. “The thought is it would make us a more resilient community because we could supply the entire Lihue-Kapaa region with sources that don't have an energy component.”
The current Lihue-Kapaa system has a capacity of 4 mgd. DOW plans to take the vertical wells out of production once the horizontal well comes on line, although they feasibly still could be used, allowing for a tripling of capacity.
Though I wasn't the only person to raise the specter that all this additional capacity might generate additional development, Jan downplayed that concern, saying both water and power use on the island have been dropping in recent years.
He also noted that using water capacity to limit growth only “hurts the little guys,” because big companies like A&B can drill their own well, as they're doing at Kukuiula.
Still, I think it's important to note that the project is planned for land owned by Grove Farm, which has all that undeveloped acreage out there that would make for some fabulous gentleman's estates. But water has always been the limiting factor, and GF had to develop an extremely expensive surface water system to supply its projects to date.
Surely they're going to want something, I said to Jan, and then we argued a little bit about whether GF could legally claim a share of the water in exchange for allowing the project on its land.
We also talked about who would be making the decisions about how that additional capacity is used. Ultimately, authority lies with the Board of Water Supply. It is comprised of seven members. Three are ex-officio voting members: the county engineer, the planning director and the state highways engineer. The other four are appointed by the mayor and approved by the County Council. Currently, they are farmer Roy Oyama, rancher, developer and former Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro (who is chair), banker Clyde Nakaya and electrician Randall Nishimura.
Sounds like kind of a pro-growth line-up. And where are the women, the environmentalists and the Hawaiians? I asked Jan, though that's a question that would be better posed to Mayor Bernard Carvalho, since he does the appointing.
Jan says the horizontal well was first proposed as part of the 2020 water plan, but a 2001 study found it couldn't be done effectively. Since then, new oil drilling technology has been developed that could now make such a project feasible. The plan is to drill into the mountain for two miles, or until they hit a capacity of 8 mgd.
If it's found that any streams are being dewatered as a result of collecting that water, the state Commission on Water Resource Management could order a reduction in the flow, Jan said. But he doesn't think that such is dewatering is likely, because it's estimated the current sustainable capacity of Kauai's water resources is 120-130 mgd.
Though I recall DOW Director David Craddick, previously talking about doing this horizontal drilling into the “blue hole” region, Jan said DOW is instead looking at the site in the Lihue-Koloa Forest Reserve because there are already two hydro plants, and roads and ditches are in place.
Anyway, if you want to ask questions or weigh in, DOW will be holding an informational meeting from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17 at King Kaumualii School in Hanamaulu. Child care will be offered by Kamaaina Kids.