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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 17, 2006

State to release Kaua'i reservoir inspection results

 •  Flooding simulations obsolete

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

LIHU'E, Kaua'i —The emergency inspections of all Kaua'i dams and reservoirs, conducted in the weeks after the Kaloko dam disaster, should be released this week, state officials said.

The surveys will be the first thorough, comprehensive study of every dam on the island, using the same set of guidelines for each. Similar inspections have been conducted for dams across the state, but it is not clear when those will be released, said Clifford Inn, public information officer for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The department was charged in the Dam Safety Act of 1987 with launching regular inspections of dams statewide, but while engineers did look at most, they never inspected Kaloko. Land Board chairman Peter Young has conceded that while dam safety engineers sought permission to go to the dam, they never got permission and never actually inspected it.

The department's lack of aggressiveness in the Kaloko situation is upsetting to Michael Perius, whose property along Wailapa Stream was stripped of vegetation by the March 14 flood. Perius said that as recently as Oct. 28, 2005, he filed a complaint with the Department of Land and Natural Resources Commission on Water Resources Management about erratic water flows from Kaloko.

"I have lived on the Wailapa Stream at the mouth of Morita Reservoir for three years. In this period, I have watched the Wailapa Stream go from a free flowing stream of 15 to 18 feet wide and then, in the midst of a lot of rainfall, dwindle to a 6-inch-wide trickle," he wrote in his complaint. He said something was clearly interfering with the flow, and he asked for an investigation. He said the water commission — a different agency than the dam safety program — failed to do so.

But Kaloko has not gone entirely uninspected. There were inspections — ranging from careful on-ground assessments to flyovers — in 1977, 1982, 1992 and 2003.

And the survey results are contradictory.

Kaloko, a reservoir formed in 1890 by building a 44-foot-high earthen dam, was a source of water for the canefields of C. Brewer & Co.'s Kilauea Sugar Co. until it went out of business in the early 1970s. The company sold its portion of the reservoir, including virtually all of the dam, in 1987 to Jimmy Pflueger. However, Brewer kept the rights to the water, through its subsidiary Kilauea Irrigation Co.

The subsidiary provides irrigation water to about 20 farms in the Kilauea area, most of them organic produce growers. Brewer, which is selling off its assets and going out of business, sold Kilauea Irrigation in December 2005, to Tom Hitch, who had been helping Brewer run the system.

C. Brewer attorney Ken Kupchak said the engineering firm of Belt Collins and Associates in 1977 conducted a "fairly comprehensive study" of Kaloko Reservoir and its associated irrigation system, and found there were no problems with the dam.

In 1984, a state-federal study of the Kilauea irrigation system, "Kilauea Agricultural Water Management Study," declared the dam "structurally questionable" after finding seepage at its base and trees growing into the bottom of the earthen embankment. Brewer wrote that it disagreed with the report.

However, Kupchak said that in 1992, after Hurricane Iniki, the Corps of Engineers conducted an overflight of the reservoir and saw nothing significant enough to warrant a ground inspection, he said.

Finally, in 2003, Belt Collins conducted a survey of Kaloko for the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health, which were investigating landowner Pflueger for illegal grading near the reservoir. That report, although it was not focused on the dam itself, included no warnings about the dam's condition.

Most of the development of lands along Wailapa Stream downstream from Kaloko occurred since the 1984 report, and most of it on land purchased from C. Brewer. Kupchak said he does not know whether any warnings about the dam and reservoir were included in real estate documents when the lands of the former Kilauea Sugar Co. were sold.

"They would be hard-pressed to argue that they didn't need to disclose it. They were a pretty sophisticated operator," said Deputy County Engineer Ladye Martin, who is an attorney, about C. Brewer and its land sales.

Perius said there was no warning about danger from a massive reservoir just a mile or so upstream from some homes.

Perius, a Realtor, said "there was never any clarification about that body of water" when he purchased land downstream from Kaloko.

When the dam broke March 14, Perius said the sound was "like 10 jet engines." It scoured the lower portion of his property, and left tons of debris that Perius is cleaning up himself.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.