State taken to task over irrigation on Molokai
WAILUKU » The state Department of Agriculture has mismanaged a major irrigation system on Molokai, potentially endangering the island's agriculture, according to a state report.
A state legislative auditor's report, released yesterday, said while the department inherited the "broken" Molokai Irrigation System in 1989, it has done little to learn about the system's problems or create a plan to fix them.
"The department's flawed management endangers agriculture on Molokai," the report said.
The irrigation system, which extends 25 miles, collects water from streams and wells in Waikolu Valley and transports it through a system of tunnels, pipes and flumes to the Kualapuu Reservoir, with a holding capacity of 1.4 billion gallons.
The system transported about 2.6 million gallons a day in 2007, totaling about 946 million gallons, the department said.
Some 220 Hawaiian homesteaders and 30 nonhomesteaders take water from the system, the department said.
The report said the department has been unable to reconcile its responsibilities as stewards of the irrigation system and its obligation to Hawaiian homesteaders who live on agricultural lots.
The report said while the department acknowledges that homesteaders have preference to two-thirds of the system's water, it has not reflected this usage in its planning.
Nonhomestead users consume 80 percent of the system's available water, the report said.
The report said the department's lack of procedures about maintenance and its lack of appropriate tools and equipment contributed to a further decline in the system.
During its fieldwork the auditor's office found that 16 or 17 air relief valves were inoperable, reducing the amount of water flowing through the system, according to the report.
The report said the system needed to be brought up to efficient operation before a determination could be made about the cost of its upkeep.
The financial and management audit was conducted in response to a state Senate concurrent resolution passed in 2007.
Senators wanted to know the cost of the system and what measures would improve the physical facilities and reduce user expenses.
The state Senate also wanted to know if revenues generated by the system were being used to fund other state irrigation systems.
The audit report said in fiscal 2006-07 the system generated $498,000 in cash receipts and expended $428,000. The report also said unpaid water bills were a major problem, with more than 90 percent of them outstanding for more than 60 days.
State Agriculture Chairwoman Sandra Kunimoto said the department has received $3.5 million for repairs in the past few years and is proceeding with maintenance.
Kunimoto said the department has been giving preference to Hawaiian homesteaders based on need. "We take our responsibility to homesteaders seriously," she said.
Kunimoto said all the accounts that are delinquent for 60 days or more are from homesteaders, and the department is working with an advisory group to resolve them.