STAR-BULLETIN / 2006
The question of liability for the water system connected to the Ka Loko Reservoir on Kauai has left several area farmers uncertain of the future.
Dam’s liability issues leave Kauai farmers high and dry
KILAUEA, Kauai » Farmers who use the Ka Loko Reservoir to water their crops have had a rough few months.
After the March 14, 2006, dam breach that killed seven people, a terrible drought has made a swamp out of the reservoir, which once held nearly 400 million gallons.
And now, just as water begins to fill into the area, a recent Board of Land and Natural Resources decision has put the future of the reservoir in jeopardy.
Yesterday, at a meeting with state officials from the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture, farmers discussed the future of water for their farms.
The Land Board has terminated a permit held by Kilauea Irrigation Co. that had allowed the diversion of water from Puu Ka Ele Stream into Ka Loko. While the permit had been held since the breakup of sugar giant C Brewer & Co. in the 1980s, the diversion has likely taken place since the building of Ka Loko well more than 100 years ago.
But because of the dam breach and the half-dozen or so lawsuits that followed it, Kilauea Irrigation has been unable to secure insurance for it ditch system since it expired in December.
Russell Tsuji, Land Division administrator for the DLNR, said that while there is a small safety concern, namely that more of the dam walls could erode, the main issue is the question of liability of the dam.
Dam owner James Pflueger does not want to assume liability for the water system; neither does the state.
So that potentially leaves the farmers high and dry.
While state officials said it would take them at least three to six months to secure the proper permits and bid the contract to close off the diversion, there is no system in place to help farmers get water if the state closes off the main ditch that supplies water to Ka Loko.
The well system in the Kilauea area, according to state officials, is nearly at capacity from the existing wells in the area.
So state officials were asking for help from the farmers so that they could help them.
"All of us need to put our heads together and see what can be done," said Sandra Kunimoto, director of the Department of Agriculture.
Farmers, however, said they would have plenty of water if the Ka Loko dam were secured and if someone took up the liability.
"I don't see why you're dead set on shutting us off," said farmer David Whatmore. "Why not come up with the money to pay the insurance?"
But state officials said it would be the farmers themselves who would have to take control of the system.
"Should you organize and pay for the insurance," said Land Board Kauai member Ron Agor, "I will recommend taking it back to the board."