Emergency Repairs at Wailuku River: Differing Views Over Scope of Work Allowed

October 8, 2016, 8:25 AM HST · Updated October 13, 6:32 AM
Wendy Osher · 0 Comments
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ʻĪao Valley flood restoration. Photo 10.4.16 by Wendy Osher.

ʻĪao Valley flood restoration. Photo at the lower loop trail (which was partially destroyed) on State Monument grounds. 10.4.16 by Wendy Osher.

Differing views over the scope of work allowed under an emergency permit at the Wailuku River in ‘Īao Valley led to a small demonstration that resulted in a work stoppage at the site of Wailuku Water Company’s diversion on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.

On Friday, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources released information saying the Commission on Water Resource Management had issued an Emergency Authorization to Wailuku Water Company, LLC for the purpose of repairing and conducting stream maintenance activities to its ‘Īao Intake on Wailuku River.  The work, department officials say, is pursuant to Hawaiʻi Administrative Rules Chapter 13-169-55, and includes debris removal.

The US Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District, also issued a Nationwide Permit Verification for the removal of boulders and debris from Wailuku River, to provide access to and unblock the WWC intake structure, according to DLNR.

But those opposed to the work have expressed concern over what they are calling the “realignment” of the river and runoff downstream.

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The group Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā posted information on their Facebook page alleging a possible violation of the Clean Water Act, saying, “enormous mounds of rock, debris and dirt” is causing runoff.  The post stated, “The burying and damage of the Wailuku Water Co. diversion system we believed, was an opportunity to work in collaboration with stakeholders to create a system that protects the stream, native aquatic habitat, traditional customary rights and public trust uses.”

Wailuku Water Company President, Avery Chumbley responded to our request for a comment on Friday afternoon.  In an email communication to Maui Now, he stated:

“I do want to express concerns for safety of the protesters who have ventured into the dangerous areas of the Wailuku River, while there is currently remediation work going on as a result of the storm flood damage,  the access road and parks are closed for a purpose and that is the safety of everyone. I do respect the rights of all parties to express their views and concern but hope they do it in a safe manner.

WWC is currently involved in a contested case with various Parties and the CWRM and therefore reserves its comments regarding this matter till a future time.”

On Thursday night, a community meeting hosted by the Governor’s office included questions about the work in which Jeff Pearson, deputy director of the State Water Commission, said the permit did not include realignment of the stream.  Questions were also raised about oversight of work being conducted.

DLNR officials note that the heavy rains and flooding in mid-September caused extensive damage to private homeowners, the County’s Kepaniwai Park, ‘Īao Valley State Park, and mauka watershed areas.  The event has been called a 100-year-flood, resulting in millions in dollars in damage and forcing the closure of both parks until further notice, and the closure of ‘Īao Valley Road to all but residents and construction crews.

 

State officials say the stream channel was altered considerably during the flooding event, and some immediate efforts will need to be completed to protect private residences and public infrastructure.  CLICK HERE TO HELP

“WWC’s diversion of water from Wailuku River is a permitted use and water from this diversion supplies up to 3.2 million gallons per day to the Maui Department of Water Supply, along with WWC customers, agricultural and domestic users, and kuleana users for growing kalo,” officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources said.

County Communications Director Rod Antone offered clarification of different projects taking place related to repair and restoration following the September Flood event.  Upon our request, he offered the following statement to Maui Now:

“People should know that at some point there will be three different projects, all of them separate projects, in ʻĪao Valley. First there’s the state project up above to fix ʻĪao Valley State Park. Then there’s the work the county is doing to fix Kepaniwai Park. Finally there’s Wailuku Water Company, which is trying to fix their infrastructure. Later on there will be another project to remove all storm debris from the river that could potentially dam up and block the water from flowing. If this happens and the blockage bursts all of a sudden, people living downstream will be at risk. This will be a county project that should be partially funded by FEMA money.”

In addition to the Wailuku Water Company work and the state and county park repairs, the Maui Department of Water Supply will also be conducting repair work on a 12-inch waterline that was lost in the flood.

State officials say water from a groundwater tunnel, adjacent to the WWC diversion, provides water directly to approximately 200 residents in ‘Īao Valley and an additional 1.5 million gallons per day to the County.  This particular project will involve heavy machinery in and along the stream channel, and helicopter work to move large equipment and supplies.

DLNR officials say the Governor’s Emergency Proclamation, issued on Sept. 16, 2016, suspended numerous State Statutes to provide for quick and efficient relief of the conditions created by the recent storm events.

There was an Emergency Proclamation issued by Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa, and a Presidential Disaster Declaration was approved for federal assistance this week, with authorities referring to the event as a 100-year-flood.

There are records of a “100 Year Flood” that occurred in January of 1916. That event killed 13 people, left an estimated 250 people homeless, and destroyed 50-75 homes according to archived records of The Maui News. During that time, they did not have the same infrastructure that is in place today.

In explaining his description of the Storm as a historic event, Gov. Ige said, the typical flow of the Wailuku River is 25-30 mgd.” The gauges during the September flood event, before they got swept away, measured 3 billion gallons a day. “Clearly it was way beyond what is typical or even imagined,” said Ige.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served nearly 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.

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