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Restoration Proposed For Waipi`o Valley Streams and Waterfalls on Big Island of Hawai`i

Twin waterfalls will flow again
February 28, 2002
Big Island, Hawai`i —

On February 27, 2002, the Commission on Water Resource Management adopted a proposal by Kamehameha Schools (KS) to fully restore the flows to three streams diverted by the Lalakea Ditch above Waipi`o Valley on the island of Hawai'i. The proposed restoration of Lalakea and Hakalaoa streams and a tributary of Lalakea Stream follows years of efforts by the Waipi`o Valley Community Association (WVCA) and others to stop the wasting of water by the Lalakea Ditch and to restore the streams. An average of 2.5 million gallons of water a day is diverted from the streams by the Lalakea Ditch.

Lalakea and Hakalaoa streams and the tributary of Lalakea Stream flow over the pali (cliffs) above Waipi`o Valley as the famous Hi`ilawe Twin Falls (also known as Hi`ilawe and Hakalaoa Falls). The two falls converge in a pool at the bottom of the pali and form Hi`ilawe Stream, one of two primary waterways running through the valley to the ocean. Hi`ilawe Stream supports lo`i kalo (irrigated taro fields), native stream life, fishing, gathering, and other traditional and customary practices.

The proposed restoration of the three streams at Waipi`o is only the second stream restoration in the history of the State Water Code, enacted in 1987. The first stream restoration under the code was partial restoration of Waiahole, Waianu, and Waikane streams in Windward O`ahu.

KS must file the required papers to abandon the Lalakea Ditch within 30 days of yesterday's Commission meeting. However, the actual restoration of flows to the three streams will occur after a section of the Lower Hamakua Ditch behind Hakalaoa Falls is repaired. For the past few months, Lalakea Ditch water has been piped into the Lower Hamakua Ditch and used by Hamakua Coast farmers and others while the section of the Lower Hamakua Ditch behind Hakalaoa Falls is being repaired. The repair is expected to be complete in June of this year. In lieu of a hefty $453,000 fine for failing to provide evidence of long-term use of water diverted by the Lalakea Ditch, KS will be required to fund studies or other stream-related projects of comparable value.

"In supporting the restoration of these streams, Kamehameha Schools has demonstrated that it is more concerned with the environmental and cultural future of our islands than retaining rights to a public asset in hopes of future profits," said Christopher Rathbun, Waipi`o Valley farmer and WVCA officer. "My hope is that other large stream diverters will follow their example," said Rathbun.

Lalakea Ditch water was used last by the Hamakua Sugar Company in 1989. KS obtained the Lalakea Ditch when it acquired Hamakua Sugar Company land in 1994. The ditch has the capacity to divert up to 2.5 million gallons per day from the three streams. Since Hamakua Sugar shut down, water from the Lalakea Ditch has not been used (except most recently), but the ditch continues to divert water from the streams and dump it into a dry gully.

In December 1995, Rathbun filed a citizen complaint with the Commission, seeking the return of water diverted by the Lalakea Ditch to the streams of origin. The Commission took no action on the complaint. In May 1998, WVCA, represented by Earthjustice, filed another complaint with the Commission seeking the return of the unused water diverted by the Lalakea Ditch to the streams of origin. The Commission's staff investigated the complaint in 1998 and 1999, and although Lalakea Ditch water was still being wasted, the Commission took no action. In June 2000, again on behalf of WVCA, Earthjustice filed a Petition for Declaratory Order with the Commission to stop the continued dumping of water diverted by the Lalakea Ditch. The petition requested that the Commission immediately order KS to cease diverting any water by the Lalakea Ditch.

The Lalakea Ditch matter came before the Commission most recently at its February 27, 2002 meeting in Honoka`a. In a surprising move, KS offered to formally abandon the Lalakea Ditch once the section of the Lower Hamakua Ditch behind Hakalaoa Falls is repaired. According to KS, they weighed the economic benefits of continuing to operate the Lalakea Ditch against the cultural, environmental, and educational benefits of restoring the streams and decided to restore the streams.

"We commend Kamehameha Schools for doing the right thing and abandoning the Lalakea Ditch," said Marjorie Ziegler, resource analyst with Earthjustice. "The community has worked so hard to restore stream flows and protect the integrity of stream ecosystems in Waipi`o Valley."

Contacts

Marjorie Ziegler, Earthjustice 808-599-2436

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.