Radar to examine Kaua'i reservoir
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LIHU'E, Kaua'i — State and federal crews will use sophisticated radar surveying equipment today to accurately map the entire Kaloko Reservoir — including the crucial area that has been described as its spillway.
The spillway — and whether it has been altered — has emerged as a central issue into the investigation of the failure of the 450-million-gallon reservoir. At least seven people were believed killed March 14 in the flood caused by the 200-foot-wide breach of Kaloko's earthen dam. Since an earthen dam can quickly erode and fail if water flows over it, a wide, hard-surfaced spillway is built lower than the dam to automatically let water flow out during floods.
A key part of the investigation being conducted by the state attorney general's office is whether the spillway or other parts of Kaloko have been altered. Subpoenas issued to numerous north shore Kaua'i individuals ask them to provide any documents dealing with such alterations.
Bill McCorriston, attorney for Jimmy Pflueger, one of the reservoir's owners, has said no alterations had been made and that the spillway is present. State Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Robert Lee said yesterday that the Army Corps of Engineers did not find the spillway.
He said no work is being done at the Kaloko Reservoir because state Attorney General Mark Bennett asked that the site be left "as is."
The survey, using technology known as LIDAR, was expected to be completed today, said Bob Masuda, deputy director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. He said he did not know whether the survey would answer the question about any alteration to the spillway.
Independently, a multiagency dam inspection team was to return for a second visit to Kaloko Reservoir today to reconfirm its earlier conclusion that Kaloko was no longer a threat to downstream areas. Teams have concluded that while there are areas that need monitoring, all of Kaua'i's 54 dams are now safe. Lee said he expects a final report on the Kaua'i dams today, and that teams soon will move on to conduct surveys of dams on Maui, then the Big Island, and finally O'ahu.
Lee asked Gov. Linda Lingle to extend the emergency declaration for the state to April 30 to allow for unfettered access to every privately owned dam in the state.
DLNR director Peter Young said he has not been contacted by the attorney general's office in connection with the investigation but has instructed his staff to turn over any requested documentation. Young said he did not know if any attorney general investigators had contacted his department.
The responsibility of inspecting dams, both private and public, belongs to the state land department. The state has said that dam inspections statewide have been inconsistent and difficult to track. The department has requested maintenance records on every dam in the state and expects to begin receiving them early next week.
"There is the (dam) law and there are rules. This incident is changing things significantly," Young said. "We are asking each owner of each dam to provide us with records so we can evaluate what each owner has been doing."
Young has asked Lingle for money to allow the department to hire two additional engineers who have dam expertise. Interviews with possible candidates have begun but no formal hire has been made.
Meanwhile, the department's Land Division is conducting an extensive search of property rec-ords to confirm the ownership of Kaloko Dam after suggestions that while Jimmy Pflueger and the Mary Lucas Trust own the land, the state of Hawai'i actually owns and is responsible for the dam.
The preliminary report: The dam belongs to Pflueger and Lucas, not to the state.
"Preliminary indications" show "ownership of the land being no different than the dam ... Land Division has not located any record of unrecorded documents noting ownership of the dam by the State," said a land department press release.
An attempt to reach a Pflueger representative for comment last night was unsuccessful.
When Kaloko's dam let go, the flood of trees and water smashed into the raised section of Kuhio Highway that crosses Wailapa Stream. The flood eroded the highway's sides, leaving only enough pavement for one-way traffic.
Repairs are expected to last until the end of the year when the state hopes to have both lanes open, said Rod Haraga, director of the state Department of Transportation.
He said crews also are assessing the 1967 culvert under the road to see what repairs are needed. Any new design would need to compensate for a possible future reservoir breach or flooding caused by torrential rains.
"Our alternative is to build a bridge but we don't think that's necessary at this point," Haraga said.
Kuhio Highway will maintain the single contra-flow lane while repair work is being done. The road will be closed only if crews need to move heavy machinery in and out of the area.
On the south side of Kaua'i, residents of Koloa say they are concerned about flooding from Grove Farm's giant Waita Reservoir.
Don Cataluna, a retired plantation manager and Koloa resident, said that one of the two giant "pani," or valves, used to remove water from the reservoirs has been inoperable since 1972. He asked that it be repaired so both valves can be opened during potential floods.
Grove Farm President Warren Haruki noted that Waita this month faced and survived the biggest rainfall in its history. He said that water levels rose even though all ditch inflows were diverted away from the reservoir a month ago.
"We'll use this opportunity to do a good assessment and we'll come up with a corrective plan if necessary," Haruki said.
Cataluna and fellow Koloa resident Ted Blake said they also hope to hold a community meeting and urge landowners along drainage channels to do regular maintenance.
"The Waiohonu channel was choked with hau bush, and homes were flooding. When they cleared it, the flooding went down," Blake said.