Waihe‘e Flood “Obliterates” Structure That Feeds Water to Kalo Farms
More than 100 volunteers participated in a restoration effort at Waiheʻe River on Sunday after a storm on Feb. 18 wiped out a rock wall at the headwaters and cut off water flow to taro farmers downstream.
Project coordinator, Tiare Lawrence said the workday was an opportunity to bring the community out and engage volunteers in restoration and education efforts on the importance of maintaining the streams at Nā Wai ʻEhā.
“The invasive java plum trees are wreaking havoc in our streams and we’re noticing that every time there is big rains that the falling trees are actually what’s causing a majority of the damage to the banks,” said Lawrence.
Organizers say volunteers did much of the work by hand to avoid sediment and runoff that could occur with the use of big machinery.
The north ʻauwai ditch system feeds about 10 farmers including Kapuna Farms which cultivates kalo on 2-3 acres in the valley and some other farmers who supply kalo to Aloha Poi Company. Organizers say water has been cut off to about 20 or so acres of loʻi kalo cultivation on the North side of the ʻauwai.
“They have no water in their loʻi right now,” said Lawrence who anticipates water restoration to the ʻauwai within the next couple of weeks. The restoration of walls that were wiped out in the flood is expected to take much longer, possibly six months to a year to complete.
In the meantime, the group will continue to conduct community work days and has set up a PayPal account to help with the purchase of 6-inch piping as a “temporary solution” to get water into the ditch until the ʻauwai walls can be reconstructed.
The funds are being raised through Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā, a 501c3 non-profit and all donations are tax deductible. 100% of the donations earmarked for the ‘Auwai Restoration will be provided to the kuleana kalo farmers.
“In this particular case, in Waiheʻe, the north Waiheʻe kuleana ʻauwai–at least the first 125-130 feet of the original ʻauwai (ditch/canal) and poʻowai/māno wai (the stone dam at the headwaters that bring a portion of the stream water into an ʻauwai system) had pretty much been obliterated,” said Hōkūau Pellegrino, president of Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā.
According to Pellegrino, the poʻowai served its purpose, which was to break away in a major flood event, and prevent more severe damage to the actual ʻauwai downstream. The stone structures, Pellegrino said, are meant to be very strong and very functional, but they’re also meant, during flash flood events to break away.
“This was not your typical one. This was definitely a massive flood event,” he said. “In this case, unfortunately, because of the magnitude of water and flooding that occurred, you had a stream bed that was probably maybe 40-50 feet wide, now its upwards of 150 feet wide. And so, when that water came down, it not only blew out the stone dam poʻowai, it also blew out a good portion of that beginning intake part of the ʻauwai. And that’s a historical ʻauwai that’s been there for generations,” said Pellegrino.
According to Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā, the ahupuaʻa of Waiheʻe currently has the largest cultivation of loʻi kalo of the four ahupuaʻa in Nā Wai ʻEhā. “In Nā Wai ʻEhā, Waiheʻe was probably equal to that of Wailuku in terms of the amount of loʻi kalo that were cultivated pre-western contact. These ʻauwai systems are definitely no joke,” said Pelligrino. “Today it feeds 20 acres, but historically we’re talking upwards of 500 plus acres just on the north side of Waiheʻe Stream alone that was fed from this ʻauwai.”
The flood is being compared to the 100 year event at ʻĪao that caused millions of dollars in damage two years ago. “I would say this was basically almost identical to the type of storm and flood event that occurred in ʻĪao and other places in 2016,” said Pellegrino who has been researching old Hawaiian language newspapers for clues into the frequency and destruction caused by past events.
He uncovered a Feb. 20, 1858 article reporting on a flood in Waiheʻe saying, “pretty much 160 years to the date of a massive flood event in Waiheʻe that not only destroyed loʻi kalo, but it also damaged house sites there, the stream moved in a different direction and flooded different kuleana lands.”
“It’s kind of interesting to see how often this type of flooding reoccurs, but at least the trend that we’re seeing in places like ʻĪao Valley and Wailuku River, it seems like anywhere between 50 to 100 years, these type of flood events occur, so this is not going to be the last for sure,” he said.
More community work events are scheduled at Waiheʻe from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 3, as well as Sunday, March 11, Saturday, March 17 and Sunday, March 25, 2018 at 2644 Kahekili Highway which is just past the Waiheʻe River Bridge. The purpose is to shore up some of the areas along the ʻauwai that got undermined and restore the original ʻauwai.
The work involves a coordinated effort between the north Waiheʻe kuleana taro farmers, Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā and farmers from all parts of Maui. Sunday’s event drew farmers and volunteers from Hāna, Honokōhau, Kahakuloa and Kauaula Valley.