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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 18, 2006

Reservoir sustains agriculture

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Rushing waters from breached Kaloko Reservoir on Kaua'i gouged out large portions of Wailapa Stream Tuesday before entering Morita Reservoir, at left. Farmers, who depend on water from the reservoir, want it to be preserved, if it can be safely maintained.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Twenty Kaua'i farmers who rely on water from the damaged Kaloko Reservoir don't want it torn down in the aftermath of Tuesday's devastating collapse.

"If it can be safely maintained and I underline safely then people need to know that it is the lifeline to an entire agriculture community," said Phil Davies, who grows organic lettuce and ginger on his Kailani Farms. "It's not a trout pond for a rich guy. It is actually serving working farmers."

Ray Lovell, spokesman for State Civil Defense, said he has heard of no plan to destroy either Kaloko or nearby Morita Reservoir "at this point. The plan right now is to end the threat to public health and safety. Once (Kaloko) does not have enough water in it to be a threat, I really don't know what will happen to it at this point."

But the farmers have invited state and local officials to a meeting this morning at Phil Green's Kaua'i Organic Farms in Kilauea to emphasize the importance of Kaloko's water to farmers in the area.

"We're just trying to be proactive because the concern is they're going to shut down Kaloko," Green said. "I know public sentiment. ... (Seven) lives were lost and that's very unfortunate. Most people think that reservoir is not used by anybody, but we very much depend on it."

After Tuesday's collapse, Green no longer has enough water pressure to wash half of his remaining ginger crop that needs to come out of the ground.

"I need water pressure, I need volume," he said.

Like others farmers, David Whatmore, the owner of Hula Daze Farm, can buy more expensive water from the county. But the county's fith-inch valve cannot compare in volume or pressure to the 3-inch valve the farmers use to get water from Kaloko.

"Without this ag water from Kaloko, it'll be impossible to farm profitably here," said Whatmore, who grows tangerines, grapefruit, mango, avocado, star fruit and coconuts on eight acres of land fed by Kaloko Reservoir.

"I'm hoping that we'll get some recognition of the importance of this water to our agriculture here and the importance of agriculture to our local culture. It's partly for selfish reasons, but also for unselfish reasons. Instead of growing homes out here and making a lot of money, I'm growing trees."

State Sen. Gary Hooser, (D-7th, Kaua'i, Ni'ihau), plans to attend today's meeting and said, "Clearly dams like Kaloko need to be inspected and maintained and managed appropriately."

Since Tuesday, Hooser has heard from three different groups of constituents:

"The people that live in luxury homes want to preserve the amenity of a water feature for the beauty and aesthetics of it. I'm hearing people concerned about environmental issues who want to put water back in the streams where it started. And I'm hearing farmers who want to preserve their irrigation water. I certainly think there's room to balance all three of those needs."

In general, Hooser said, "I want to support farming. We live in a rural community and I want to help keep the country country. To me that means supporting farming. For reservoirs and dams in general, we need to acknowledge their importance to the agricultural industry and treat them as a resource."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.