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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

Waipi'o to regain majesty of twin falls

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The fabled twin falls of Waipi'o Valley will return to their majestic natural state this summer, something not seen on the Big Island for a dozen years.

In a move being praised by environmentalists and valley residents, Kamehameha Schools decided on Wednesday to stop using an old plantation irrigation system on the Hamakua coast.

The landowner, facing fines totalling $453,000 for failing to provide information to the state, made the decision before the state Commission on Water Resource Management, said Marjorie Ziegler, an analyst with the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.

"Kamehameha Schools should be commended for looking at the cultural and the environmental benefits of restoring these streams," Ziegler said. "They are not looking at the dollar as the bottom line."

Ziegler called the decision "a major victory" for the community.

"If they do this, the streams will be restored and water will be flowing over the waterfalls," she said. "I'm really excited."

The twin, 900-foot-high waterfalls — Hi'ilawe and Hakalaoa — were reduced to one in 1989 when Hamakua Sugar Co. diverted the flow to Hakalaoa, drying it up.

Area residents complained in 1992, but the sugar company went bankrupt the next year and the problem remained. Kamehameha Schools bought 3,800 acres of the sugar company property in 1994.

"I am absolutely thrilled by this," said Waipi'o Valley taro farmer Chris Rathbun, who has lived in the area since 1976. "I am really amazed at this turn-around that Kamehameha Schools has made in deciding to remove the diversion."

In 1998, Earthjustice filed a complaint with the water commission on behalf of valley residents, saying that some of the diverted water was being wasted. The landowner responded by saying that the water, which flowed through Lalakea Ditch irrigation system, was being used for an aquaculture operation.

The ditch, built in the 1900s, was in disrepair.

When Kamehameha Schools failed to meet a December 2000 deadline for information about the aquaculture operation, it was subject to fines of $1,000 a day.

In lieu of the fine, the commission will allow Kamehameha Schools to pay for other water studies that would total $453,000, said Neil Hannahs, director of Kamehameha Schools' land assets division.

The irrigation system diversion takes about 2.5 million gallons a day from three sources.

"We, too, would like to see water over those two falls," Hannahs said. "This is a nice resolution of a long-standing complaint. We are quite satisfied and see far more opportunities in managing this.."

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.