East Kauai's


On November 17, 2000, Amfac Company ceased farm operations on Kauai. One consequence of this is the closing of the East Kauai Water Company and shutting down of the irrigation system of reservoirs and ditches serving an area of approximately 6,000 acres above Kapaa, as well as the State lands adjacent to the North and South Forks of the Wailua River. At the request of Kauai County Farm Bureau, a community meeting was held November 15, 2000, and attended by approximately 80 residents concerned about the irrigation system. Following the unanimous expressed desire of the residents to preserve the system as integral to the area's rural nature and essential to farmers, a committee was formed to evaluate the system and explore means to take over its operation. The committee conducted meetings for more 700 man hours and undertook 200 man hours of field trips. As well, hundreds of hours went into private meetings, field trips and report preparation. The meetings included the major system users, representatives from the State Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, the Kauai Farm Bureau and others. This committee incorporated March 5, 2001, as the East Kauai Water Users' Cooperative.

Wailua Reservoir Holds 242 million gallons of water;
the State intends to make it a public fishery

The Kapaa irrigation system was built in the 1920s to provide water for approximately 6,000 acres of land under sugar cane. The system comprises 22.5 miles of ditch and tunnel, the Wailua Reservoir of 242 million gallon capacity, the Upper Kapahi Reservoir with 30 million gallon capacity and three smaller reservoirs. Today about 1/3rd of that 6,000 acres is lightly urbanized, 1/3rd is in large lots of five acres or more and 1/3rd is in two large parcels of 1,400 and 382 acres just sold by Amfac. The ditch system is largely abandoned in the urbanized areas but intact and flowing elsewhere. In the past, all of the State-owned 6,500 acres behind Kalepa Ridge was irrigated. Up until the sugar company closing, the lower portion has been fed by the Hanamaulu Ditch, which ended at "Reservoir 21," directly above Fern Grotto. Irrigation to the upper portion of the 6,500 acres can be restored through Stable Storm and Aahoaka ditches.

This 60-foot redwood flume is right after the tunnel
going under the UH Ag Station

Present Operation
The system operates today at less than half the sugar company's water use. It draws water from the Kapaa Stream and the North Fork of the Wailua River. The Hanamaulu Ditch is served by water which originates at the Blue Hole diversion on the North Fork and passes through two hydroelectric plants on what is now Amfac property and then into the Hanamaulu Ditch.

Evaluation of System
The water committee undertook several field trips to walk the ditch lines and evaluate the system. The most important ditch, the "transmission line" from Wailua Reservoir to Upper Kapahi Reservoir was in overall good condition, however nearly all gates, especially those on the reservoirs, are in need of repair. One flume by Kapaa Stream is in urgent need of repair. The Hanamaulu Ditch is in good order, having been in operation up until the closing of the sugar company in 2000.

Opaekaa Falls is fed in part by streams dependent upon the transmission line

Consequences of a Shut Down
If a complex system like this is not kept hydrated, that is, does not have a certain minimum water flow, then reservoir and ditch embankments can dry up and irreparably crack. The first impact of a shut down would be to loose the system permanently. Second, when the exploration team walked the transmission lines, they discovered, much to their surprise, that several perennial (year-round) streams which flow through the upper Kapaa area from Kuamoo Road to Kawaihau Road were fed directly from the transmission line by gates. Should the system be shut down, each of these streams would dry up and flow only following rain storms‹a dramatic ecological shift for the area, a change equivalent to losing 30 inches of rain a year. Farmers, ranchers and land owners along these streams are mostly unaware that the water originates with the ditch system. The shutting down of the Hanamaulu Ditch has undoubtedly contributed or even been the principle cause of the drying up on the Fern Grotto. When the ditch system was abandoned in Kealia, a dramatic change occurred as the land dried up. There the formerly perennial Kumukumu and Homaikawaa streams dried up. The same could be expected to happen in Kapaa. Vegetation would change and the ground water level would drop. The gardens' and cattlemen's demand would shift to the county's water system in this area, already operating at maximum capacity. In another instance, when the Lihue Plantation in an area near Lihue switched from furrow to drip irrigation, county wells in the area dropped in flow by one-third. Aside from these physical changes, the area would lose the significantly soothing and harmonizing impact of millions of gallons of water flowing through it daily.

This 1,400 acre parcel now owned by Bette Midler is being
developed for diversified agriculture use

Avoiding Molokai's Mistakes
We note this year's Senate Resolution 43 regarding Molokai's irrigation system which states in part:

Whereas, the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS) has been severely neglected; and ... was designed to serve up to 17,640 acres of farm land, ... have a capacity of 21 million gallons of water per day; ... currently transmits only 4 million gallons per day which limits Molokai's agriculture industry and overall economy; ... the inefficiency of the MIS is attributed to the lack of maintenance and repairs.
We seek to avoid this fate.

Reasons to Keep the System
In the short term there are farmers dependent on the system who would lose their livelihood. In the long run, maintaining the system assures future generations of the opportunity to farm, for Hawaii is the only state in the union where the number of farmers is increasing. The potential of just this Kapaa land to grow food is astounding: half of these 6,000 acres in full-scale banana production would produce 100 million pounds of bananas a year! The departure of the sugar company has rendered fallow over 1,400 acres of land along the system in Kapaa and 6,500 acres behind Kalepa ridge, land now slowly being changed over to diversified agriculture. Without the water supplied by this system, diversified agriculture is impossible.

The reservoir and ditch system is a valuable resource, one not dependent upon even a single pump or electronic gadget to operate at full capacity, and should not lightly be let go to ruin. The potential self-sufficiency such a system allows could prove critical in the event of local or national disaster or strategic emergency. The State Constitution's sections on resources directs the State to pursue policies "in the furtherance of self-sufficiency" (XI.1).

The State fisheries department expressed strong interest in developing the Wailua Reservoir as a public fishing area. This is a compatible use to the irrigation system, for stocking a reservoir for fish requires a constant circulation of water. The Cooperative has entered into discussions with the Division of Forestry and Wildlife and Division of Aquatics and arrived at a general understanding for developing Wailua Reservoir as a public fishing area and wildlife sanctuary.

This typical small user pumps water to a one-acre heliconia
farm on the transmission line

Water Use
A thorough analysis of existing and potential water users has yet to be completed, as the system flows through more than 300 parcels of land in Kapaa. The committee identified a dozen farmers raising crops that draw water from the ditch, and a larger number of ranchers watering cattle from the ditch. Up to a while ago, the Kapaa 1400 and Kapaa 382 were under irrigation by the sugar company. Now that land has been sold. The Kapaa 382 property, owned by Lull and Hancock, is being subdivided into 19 ag lots and 1 reservoir lot, and the ditch system carefully maintained throughout with the expectation that the new owners of this agriculture-zoned land will want the water. The Kapaa 1400 property is changing hands a year earlier than expected, because of Amfac's abrupt departure. The owner, Bette Midler intends to keep the land in agricultural use and wants the water. The 30 Wailua Houselots users are fed by pipe from a reservoir fed by the ditch system‹a useful example of distributing irrigation water in a subdivision for "backyard" use.

It is estimated that the two large properties would together utilize about 75% of the Kapaa water. About 25% of the remaining lots use some water for agriculture or cattle, 5% are large consumers. Lots not used for farming could be encouraged to use water for aquaculture, such as fish raising (already done by one user). As well, water could be used decoratively to create small water features as part of ornamental landscaping (also done by some users now), in conjunction with agricultural production.

The 6,500 acres will provide additional users, but as the Revocable Permits have yet to be issued for the 13 parcel holders, use estimate is not available at this time.

Even subdivisions along the ditch like this one may be
potential users for backyard use

Water Cooperative is Formed
The original committee set up under the Farm Bureau to investigate preserving the system has evolved into the East Kauai Water Users' Cooperative and has incorporated as an agricultural cooperative. Hundreds of man-hours have gone into meetings and field trips to evaluate and understand the system. The committee has been assisted all along the way by Sam Lee and Mike Loretta of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Roy Oyama of the Farm Bureau, Lincoln Ching and Kelly Gooding of the State Department of Agriculture, Bill Spitz of the Kauai Office of Economic Development, and Ron Peyton and Jon Schlegel of USDA Soil Conservation office. A founding board of directors has been chosen, and ex-officio directors invited from the above agencies plus the Kauai Department of Public Works and the Kauai Water Department.

Lihue Plantation is the former lease holder for this water system. Technically, their lease expired several years ago and has not been renewed. LP has continued to use and maintain the system, however, under an informal arrangement with the State. In discussions with LP, they indicated no objection in principle to the Water Cooperative being granted a Revocable Permit for the system. Right now, if the system is handed off with no break in continuity, it is relatively easy to continue to maintain the system at status quo, although there are several needed capital improvements. As to the long run, the main elements of the system, the tunnels and ditches, are in robust shape, able to last centuries with proper upkeep.

The Cooperative has applied for a Revocable Permit to operate the system.

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