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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 20, 2006

Flaws found at all Kaua'i dams

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Government Writer


A report on the Kaua'i dam visual inspections includes these recommendations:

  • Conduct follow-up inspections by a professional engineering service with experience "in design, construction, operation, inspection, and evaluation of dams."

  • Implement a dam safety training program for dam owners and operators.

  • Update hazard potential classification of dams. Current classifications (high, significant, low and undetermined) have not been updated for some time.

  • Institute periodic inspection of dams.

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    View reports at www.hawaii.gov/


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    Emergency visual inspections of Kaua'i's 54 dams found that all have at least one detrimental condition that could lead to a future failure if not addressed, but none are in danger of immediate collapse.

    The report, released by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers yesterday, also showed no evidence of a spillway at the Kaloko Reservoir dam.

    That finding could prove significant in the investigation of a March 14 breach that killed seven people and caused millions of dollars in damage. The catastrophic failure spurred the inspections, which began in Kaua'i but will eventually cover every dam in the state.

    Kaua'i resident Amy Marvin, who lives about a mile from Kaloko, said she is relieved no immediate danger exists. However, she said, she would like to see the state move quickly to ensure the safety of people who live near dams and to investigate what went wrong at Kaloko.

    "Everybody over here is really frustrated. Everybody feels like everything is standing still," she said. "We've lost some very special citizens, our friends, their kids. It's been really hard when it doesn't seem like enough is being done."

    A letter from Lt. Col. David E. Anderson of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was attached to the reports. It states "at least one of the following detrimental conditions exists on every dam ... inspected on Kaua'i, which if not corrected could lead to future failure. ..." The letter then lists conditions including vegetation growth, reduced spillway capacity, seepage, overly steep embankment slopes and erosion.

    It also states "many of the dams have lacked basic monitoring and maintenance programs for what appears to be an extended period."

    The inspections were based only on visible features, the letter states.

    DLNR director Peter Young said the state is working with dam owners to ensure that the most pressing problems are taken care of quickly.

    "There's a variety of corrective recommendations that were made: vegetation cleanup, some seepage in some areas, some trees growing in the dam, some vegetation blocking spillways," Young said.

    Some dam owners have already created their emergency action plans or have started taking corrective action, he said.

    Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, director of state Civil Defense, said the main finding in the Kaloko report was the absence of a spillway. He also noted that in its current condition, there is little risk of another failure at that dam.

    Tasked with the job of making sure all dams are safe, Lee said a few reservoirs on Maui and the Big Island will need to be breached to avoid future problems.

    The absence of a spillway at Kaloko is a concern, as it would be in any reservoir, Lee said.

    "We have to make sure that there's a way to get our excess water out of the reservoir without water spilling over the top," he said. "If it overflows over the top, it will undercut the structural integrity of the dam wall. That's why we're taking action to cut dam breaches."

    State Attorney General Mark Bennett, who is conducting an investigation of the Kaloko failure, said yesterday that an absence of a spillway was significant, as is the question of whether one existed previously and was taken away.

    "They are both facts that we expect when our investigation is concluded will be a part of it," he said.

    Marvin said she would like to see a federal investigation of the dam breach because she is not convinced the state can conduct an impartial investigation.

    "I would like to see somebody outside the state get involved," she said. "People feel they have relevant information that's being ignored, that's what I'm hearing."

    Bennett said state lawmakers passed a resolution asking him to appoint a special deputy attorney general to conduct an independent civil investigation, but have yet to forward him recommendations of candidates, despite two written requests.

    "It's not holding up what I'm doing, but it's obvious that the longer it goes without this, the harder the job the appointed person is going to have as we get further and further away from the events that took place," he said.

    While reports for the other dams in the state have yet to be released, Young said the Kailua Reservoir in Waimanalo was "the only one that had any immediate concern to it."

    The state Department of Agriculture has already taken action to breach the abandoned dam, he noted.

    Reports on dams in other counties will be released in the next few weeks.

    Young noted that these were only emergency inspections to uncover immediate threats, and DLNR is working with the owners to do more thorough studies of every dam in the state. He did not give a timetable, but noted that the Legislature approved $5 million to look at dams statewide.

    "With the $5 million, we will be able to do all of the inspections and work on a regular basis for subsequent inspections in the future," he said.

    Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.