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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 23, 2006

Kaua'i dam inspections reveal 'red flags'

Share your thoughts and comments on the Kaloko Reservoir disaster
 •  Heavy hearts, hope, uncertainty in Kilauea

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau


To see water levels of four Kaua'i dams, go to the U.S. Geological Survey's Pacific Island Water Science Center web site.

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LIHU'E, Kaua'i Emergency dam inspections have identified "red flags" at two reservoirs on opposite sides of the island, one involving the reservoir with the tallest dam in the state A&B's Alexander Dam.

Bob Masuda, deputy director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, said neither the Alexander Dam in Kalaheo nor the Twin Reservoir Dam in Kapahi appears to be in any immediate danger of failing.

Masuda said inspections detected two landslides below the Alexander Dam, raising questions about the stability of the area's geology.

One major landslide is within 140 feet of Alexander's 113-foot-tall reservoir wall. It appears to be in the area of a spring, he said. The slide appears to predate the recent weeks of heavy rainfall on the island, Masuda said.

"It's an older slide, but there could be stability issues," he said. "We just want to be absolutely sure."

The occupants of two homes below the dam as well as workers at a quarry downstream were relocated for two days after the possible problems were identified at Alexander Dam, but have since returned to their homes, said Frank Kiger, president of Alexander & Baldwin subsidiary Kaua'i Coffee Co.

State engineers, supplemented by federal government and other experts, are assessing the condition of the slide area and surrounding region, Masuda said. But Kiger said the "Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that the slide posed no danger to the structural integrity of the dam. The dam was secure."

Also at Alexander, the main ditch carrying irrigation water from the reservoir has been blocked by a recent slide, and Masuda said the state has granted A&B emergency authority to clear that slide and repair the ditch to restore water flow.

But Kiger, in an e-mail, said work cannot yet proceed because the DLNR approval "is contingent upon approval also from other agencies. We have engaged a contractor to do the work and will proceed as soon as the proper approvals are in hand and the weather allows."

A second red flag is at Twin Reservoir in Kapahi, Masuda said, where engineers noted an eroded area at the base of one of the reservoir's two dams. There was no indication that the erosion was associated with leakage from the reservoir.

"It's not an immediate safety issue because the water level is low," Masuda said.

State inspectors a decade ago inspected the eroded area and adjusted the dam's operating capacities to account for it, said Les Milnes, a member of the East Kaua'i Water Users Cooperative, which operates the dam and the agricultural water delivery system that runs from it. The cooperative is made up primarily of people who use the agricultural water.

Entertainer Bette Midler owns the land under one of the twin reservoirs, and is also a member of the water cooperative for property she owns in the Kapa'a area.

The operators of Twin Reservoir have met with the engineering team and are preparing to repair the problem, Masuda said.


In other developments yesterday, Civil Defense officials at 3:30 p.m. called off the search for victims of the March 14 Kaloko dam breach after nine days.

"They tell me they are 120 percent sure that they have covered everything there," Mayor Bryan Baptiste said.

Three bodies were recovered during land and sea searches, and four victims remain missing.

"Our goal had been to find all seven people, but I have to rely on the experts to tell me when they have done all they can do," Baptiste said.

Also yesterday, DLNR officials provided The Advertiser with copies of its 26-page public file on the Kaloko Reservoir.

Peter Young, director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, said the state has no records of inspecting the Kaloko dam but noted that DLNR staffers attempted to contact Jimmy Pflueger and the Mary N. Lucas Trust several times over the past several years to schedule an inspection.

Among the records is a Dec. 27, 2001, certified letter by then-DLNR engineer Andrew Monden asking Pflueger for access to the Kaloko Reservoir and asking him to sign a right-of-entry agreement. Monden wrote that the department would assume that Pflueger was waiving such an agreement if it didn't get a response within two weeks.

Pflueger did not respond to the letter but the DLNR did not act on the waiver and inspect the property. Complicating matters, the letter was sent to Pflueger's car dealership on South Beretania and not to his home.

That letter came after DLNR state Dam Safety Engineer Sterling Yong sent Pflueger and the Mary Lucas Trust a security alert on Oct. 18, 2001, warning the owners that dams are a potential target of terrorism attacks. The letter, written about a month after the Sept. 11 attacks, urged Pflueger and the Mary Lucas Trust to review their security measures and asked them to provide a summary of what they are doing to protect their dam.

The DLNR had no records of a response from Pflueger or the Mary Lucas Trust.

The files also include a March 17 letter from Young warning owners of all dams and reservoirs of their responsibility to keep updated maintenance, construction and inspection records.

The letter, written after the collapse of the Kaloko dam, also pledged the state's assistance should the owners decide to tear down their dam.


Four dam inspection teams yesterday completed a preliminary survey of all of Kaua'i's 54 reservoir dams. They were planning to spend most of today and tomorrow writing reports on each of the reservoirs. The state hopes to go back and conduct a comprehensive study of all the island's dams, to include soil boring and other tests, Masuda said.

"(The Alexander and Twins Reservoir) dams are the only ones that we have red flags on," he said. "We'll be continuing to check and monitor those. Everything else looks OK."

To keep better track of reservoirs that have problems, U.S. Geological Survey engineers have established electronic water gauging stations on four Kaua'i reservoirs. Two are directly associated with the March 14 dam breach disaster: Kaloko Reservoir, which broke, and a subsidiary reservoir, Pu'u Ka 'Ele. Both were built in 1890. Kaloko once held close to 450 million gallons, but now has only about one-tenth that amount. Pu'u Ka 'Ele is rated at about 160 million gallons.

The others are Alexander in Kalaheo and Waita in Koloa. The water heights are reported by satellite, and are available on the Web.

Following a tour of the devastated Wailapa Stream area below Kaloko dam, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka yesterday said he was impressed by "the power of nature and the damage that was done." He said his discussions with victims of the flood and with emergency workers display both a strong spirit on the part of residents and a sense of cooperation between different emergency response agencies that could be a national model.

Deputy director of state Civil Defense Ed Teixeira, who accompanied Akaka, said that while dam safety has been a part of statewide emergency planning, he hopes to have new studies conducted that produce maps to identify hazards from catastrophic dam failures statewide. He envisions such maps would be alongside tsunami inundation maps in phone books.

Also yesterday, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, suggested that an outside attorney might be necessary to investigate the dam break and avoid the potential conflict of state Attorney General Mark Bennett examining the role of other state agencies.

The congressman praised Bennett's abilities as an attorney but said conflicts may arise in determining civil and criminal liability. "As a result I think he's in a totally untenable position," Abercrombie said. "How's he going to investigate his own various departments?"


Lawmakers are moving quickly to approve Gov. Linda Lingle's $14 million emergency appropriations request but are waiting for the investigation and other answers to emerge before jumping forward with new legislation.

"I think we have to proceed very cautiously," said state Sen. J. Kalani English, D-6th (E. Maui, Moloka'i, Lana'i), chairman of the Senate Energy, Environmental and International Affairs Committee. "We have to immediately inspect the dams, immediately make sure the infrastructure is safe and take whatever steps we need to ensure that. But, for the long-term, we shouldn't rush into things."

He said the dam break has reminded lawmakers they need to properly plan for catastrophic storms.

"Oftentimes we neglect that because it's out of our sight," English said.

State Sen. Gary Hooser, D-7th (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau), said much of the response so far has been centered on the people who have lost loved ones or property but would quickly turn to what went wrong.

"What's going to emerge now is a search for reasons," Hooser said.

Staff writers Derrick DePledge and Rick Daysog contributed to this report.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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