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Thursday, June 8, 2000

Earthjustice wants
Kamehameha Schools to stop
using Big Isle water for irrigation

By Rod Thompson


HONOKAA, Hawaii -- Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund says Kamehameha Schools is wasting water on the Hamakua Coast north of Hilo, and wants it stopped.

But Kamehameha land manager Peter Simmons says the water from the Lalakea Ditch is being used for a unique, low-tech aquaculture and agriculture project, and none of the water is wasted.

Earthjustice this week petitioned the state Commission on Water Resources Management to order Kamehameha to stop taking water into the irrigation system and to follow proper procedures if it takes water in the future.

Those procedures include installing a water meter and making monthly reports to the water commission.

The irrigation system in question is not the better-known, 24-mile Lower Hamakua Ditch nor the shorter Upper Hamakua Ditch, but a little-known system lying between the two, barely 6,000 feet long.

The system can carry up to 2.5 million gallons per day, but on average it carries 1 million gallons per day, a Kamehameha report said.

After the water is taken from three streams above Waipi'o Valley, it is "dumped" into a fourth stream, Earthjustice says.

Earthjustice represents the 20-member Waipi'o Valley Community Association, which says the water should be left in its original three streams to benefit farmers in the valley.

Simmons said the Lalakea system was abandoned and overgrown when Kamehameha bought surrounding land and took over the ditch in 1994.

Local farmers, including one from Waipi'o Valley, cleaned up the system and dug two dozen terraces, to be filled with ditch water and used for raising fish, Simmons said.

Since the water is polluted by having fish in it, it is then cleaned by running it through downslope taro fields, he said.

"A lot of energy and thought and aloha has gone into the (aquaculture) system," he said.

Regarding a meter, the operators are considering a simple but relatively accurate system in common use in which a ping-pong ball is dropped into the ditch and timed to see how long it takes to pass reference points. Calculations then give stream flow numbers, he said.

The Earthjustice petition acknowledges the aquaculture project, but calls it "hastily created in an effort to justify continuing diversion (of water)."

"The burden of providing the evidence and justification for using Waipi'o Valley streams lies with (Kamehameha Schools) and no one else," the petition says.

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