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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 23, 2006

State shouldn't wait to take action on dams

When it's sunny and dry, it's easy to lose that sense of urgency felt in March when the heavy rains and the threat to our dams gripped Island residents.

But this is not the time to forget the tragedy brought on by the long-lasting rainstorms, specifically on Kaua'i where the devastating breach at the Kaloko Reservoir dam killed seven people and caused millions of dollars in damage.

The state along, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has finally completed emergency visual inspections on Kaua'i's 54 dams and compiled a report that clearly shows the dams have been neglected for years, and many pose a potential threat to public safety.

The report found that every single one of the dams had at least one detrimental issue, though no dams were in any imminent danger of collapse. More importantly, inspectors found no spillway for overflows at the Kaloko reservoir. That fact could have an impact in the ongoing investigation by the state attorney general's office.

The report did come with recommendations the state should heed. They include:

  • Augmenting its understaffed efforts with a professional engineering service for much-needed follow-up inspections.

  • Implementing a dam safety program for private owners and operators of dams.

  • Updating the hazard potential ratings for dams.

  • Instituting an ongoing program for regular dam inspection.

    These are prudent measures the state should have taken, with or without a report.

    Indeed, the state had received numerous warnings from a variety of sources that a comprehensive and meaningful approach to dam safety was lacking in Hawai'i.

    But far too few resources were put into a much-needed maintenance and inspection effort.

    That makes addressing these problems, clearly cited in the report, even more critical.

    And in the aftermath of the devastating Kaloko dam breach, inaction is not an option.

    When visual inspections on the rest of the state's dams come in over the next few weeks, officials will have something they haven't had in a long time: a clear and comprehensive picture of where we stand in dam safety.

    That should make it that much easier to prioritize repairs of dams based on the potential for public hazard.

    The reports should serve as both a guide and a catalyst and the dry weather is the perfect time to get things done.