Inmates clean Hamakua Ditch
Kulani inmates hiked 2 miles to a site filled with mud and fallen stones
KOHALA MOUNTAINS, Hawaii » Kulani Correctional Facility inmate Shane Canonio, 31, stood in knee-deep, muddy water surrounded by islands of spongelike peat moss, telling why he liked the grueling work of cleaning out the Upper Hamakua Ditch in the Big Island's Kohala Mountains.
"I like to give back to the community using the tools I learned," he said. Those tools include earning his high school diploma.
Kulani inmates recently finished two months of work clearing damage to the ditch caused by the Oct. 15 earthquakes. The water from the upper ditch is flowing again to area farms and ranches.
The normal flow of up to 10 million gallons a day dropped to zero following the quakes, said Ernest Afonso, manager of the Waimea Irrigation System which includes the 15-mile upper ditch serving 118 customers. He also manages the 24-mile Lower Hamakua Ditch, which usually serves about 250 but is still dry pending further repairs.
Canonio was in a crew of 10 inmates, but a total of 28 have worked on the two ditches, said Kulani work supervisor Leonard De Cambra.
They were just part of efforts to restore water there. An average of 25 National Guard personnel a day also worked there as well as individual volunteers. Costs were about $585,000, said Civil Defense spokesman Ray Lovell.
ROD THOMPSON / RTHOMPSON@STARBULLETIN.COM
Inmates of Kulani Correctional Facility remove vegetation from a wall of the Upper Hamakua Ditch, the final work in a two-month effort to clean the irrigation ditch. CLICK FOR LARGE
The private, 22.5-mile Kohala Ditch owned by Surety Kohala Corp. also needs $3.5 million in repairs, but government money can't be used on it, and land at the upper part of the ditch is so unstable that no work has been possible there, said Mike Gomes of Surety. The company is pumping some water through pipes, but the ditch is dry.
The two state ditches got good news this month when U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye announced the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide $4.5 million to repair them. Inouye said he will continue to try for federal money for Surety's ditch.
To reach the headwaters of the upper ditch, four-wheel-drive vehicles crawled uphill to a hundred feet from the back rim of the half-mile deep Waipio Valley. Then inmates hiked two miles along the ditch to the work site.
The rainforest is a fairyland of red lehua blossoms, dancing olapa leaves, and blankets of brilliant green moss. But when Kulani inmates arrived, it was also a morass of mud, tumbled stones, and spongelike peat moss.
Clearing the ditch will allow an assessment of where to spend the repair money, De Cambra said.
The inmates work hard and take only brief breaks to puff on stubs of cigarettes, De Cambra said.
Many said they were glad to be there.
"Every day is a good day when we get off (from the prison). We don't feel like prisoners," said inmate Tyson Reavis, 33.