Flaws seen at all 54 Kauai dams
The state finally releases results for the 54 structures surveyed after a fatal breach
Federal and state inspectors report all of Kauai's 54 dams had "at least one" serious problem that could lead to failure if not corrected.
The reports were posted on a state Web site yesterday, more than two months after the March 14 Ka Loko Dam breach killed seven people and washed away two houses.
A March 31 summary of the inspection reports by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found "no dams in immediate danger of collapse during the course of this limited emergency visual inspection."
STATE DLNR / MARCH 2006
This aerial view of the Ka Loko Dam shows the damage after it was breached.
Inspection results online
Emergency inspections of Kauai dams are posted on the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Web site at www.hawaii.gov/dlnr/reports/dam-inspections
However, the corps summary under a cover letter from Lt. Col. David Anderson noted that its findings were "valid only for the day and conditions during inspections" and that changing conditions, including "additional rainfall, severe winds or human interference" could change the level of hazard.
Concerns generally centered around lack of maintenance of the dams and included overgrowth of grass, bushes or trees; spillways with reduced capacity or erosion problems; seepage of water from the dam; overly steep slopes; outlet works that were abandoned, in poor repair or unknown to the owner; and erosion.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released a week ago by Ka Loko Dam owner's attorney William McCorriston said the dam was seeping as early as 1981.
The message that there was no immediate danger of other dam failures had been repeated to the public by state Department of Land and Natural Resources Director Peter Young and Hawaii Adjutant General Robert Lee shortly after the emergency inspections in March were completed.
On March 21, Lee said Ka Loko Dam was the only Kauai dam on which inspectors could not find a spillway -- the safety feature that allows a full reservoir to release water without breaching its dam.
The emergency visual inspections were performed by teams of DLNR, Corps of Engineers and other state and federal experts.
The corps summary of the inspections, which had not been public before yesterday, made it clear that there is more work to be done. It recommended:
» All dams be inspected by a professional engineering service with experience in dams.
» Emergency operation plans be created or updated.
» The hazard classification of dams be updated.
» A periodic dam inspection program be instituted.
Though the DLNR has jurisdiction for inspection of Hawaii's dams, Young acknowledged in the weeks following the tragedy that Ka Loko Dam had never been inspected by the state and that no dams had been inspected by the state in all of 2005 or 2006 until after the Ka Loko disaster.
Yesterday, Young had no explanation for why his department waited so long to release the apparently straightforward reports. He said they were released at 4:55 on a Friday afternoon because "that's when they were ready."
Lee said more than a month ago that he had signed off on the reports and that it was up to Young to release them.
Young confirmed yesterday that the DLNR's dam inspection group remains understaffed, with the equivalent of 1.5 engineers (three engineers split their time between work on tsunamis and dams). He said he requested two more engineers in this year's budget and believes they were approved.
Some Hawaii dam owners already have responded to DLNR requests for emergency action plans if their dams are upstream from any people or property that could be damaged by their failure.
"Some prepared and submitted them. Others asked for assistance," Young said, adding that "staff has said dam owners are being very responsive."
The Legislature gave the DLNR $5 million to pay for more thorough dam inspections, and "we're starting to work out a schedule for inspections," Young said. Because his department still has limited staff in dam inspections, the more in-depth inspections probably will again partner with federal agencies, he said.