Farmers decry Ka Loko closure
Eighteen farms on Kauai's North Shore could cease to produce crops worth $1.3 million a year if they cannot get irrigation water from Ka Loko Reservoir.
That is what the farmers themselves and supporters among Kauai's restaurants, hotels and food stores warned last week in written testimony to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.
Growers of ginger, lettuce, greens and tropical fruits said in their statements that other potential sources of water would not be adequate or affordable.
But the board, which sets policy for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, decided Friday to end a 22-year agreement that allows Kilauea Irrigation Co. to direct water from Puu Ka Ele Stream into the Ka Loko Reservoir.
Without that uphill supply of water, the reservoir will not be able to supply farms and could put 23 people out of work, state Department of Agriculture Director Sandra Lee Kunimoto said in her testimony to the Land Board.
Ka Loko Reservoir's dam breached on March 14, 2006, sweeping away two houses and a section of the Kuhio Highway downstream and killing seven people.
An investigation by a special attorney general last year spread blame for the disaster among the state DLNR, which is responsible for dam safety inspections; landowner Jimmy Pflueger, who allegedly covered the dam's spillway with dirt; Kilauea Irrigation for not properly maintaining the ditch system; and state and Kauai County officials who did not investigate concerns about the dam's integrity.
Multiple lawsuits regarding the incident are scheduled for trial in 2009.
Although the Land Board did vote to close the irrigation system, the physical work needed to put that into effect will take three to six months, DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward said.
The time lag gives the farmers some time to meet with state officials to find an alternate solution.
Farmer David Whatmore warned in his testimony that returning Ka Loko ditch water to streams could prove dangerous for downstream areas.
The Land Board canceled the agreement with Kilauea Irrigation because it has not maintained liability insurance and has been unresponsive to inquiries, Interim DLNR Director Laura Thielen said.
Kilauea Irrigation owner Tom Hitch, who is reputed to be working out of the country, told the DLNR he could not find affordable insurance after the dam breach.
Some of the farmers who use Ka Loko Reservoir water met yesterday to talk about options but are not ready to say anything publicly, said farmer Phil Green.
Thielen and Kunimoto said their departments will meet with farmers to look at possible solutions.