Community Groups Reach Legal Settlement with KIUC, State on West Kaua‘i Hydro Project

Pō‘ai Wai Ola and Nā Kia‘i Kai raised concerns about the energy project's impact on the Waimea River


Elena Bryant,, 808-543-6025

In a settlement reached between West Kauaʻi community groups, the State, and Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), the utility has agreed to withdraw its environmental assessment (EA) and “finding of no significant impact” for its proposed hydro project called the West Kauaʻi Energy Project. The parties also agreed that if any subsequent environmental review of this project goes to the state land board for approval, a public hearing will be held to allow community input. The settlement resolves the legal action brought by the community groups Pō‘ai Wai Ola and Nā Kia‘i Kai, represented by Earthjustice, raising concerns about the energy project’s impact on the Waimea River, and objecting to the lack of a public hearing when the former land board chair rubberstamped the EA days before she left office.

While the West Kauaʻi community supports clean energy development, the groups challenged the project’s EA for not adequately assessing the harm caused by the diversion of 4 billion gallons of water a year from the Waimea River watershed. In light of the settlement, the groups will be dismissing their lawsuit, while remaining vigilant alongside the broader West Kauaʻi community to ensure that their voices continue to be heard on future plans for the project.

“We have always supported clean energy,” said John A‘ana of Pō‘ai Wai Ola, “but it needs to be done in a responsible way that does not jeopardize our community’s water future. This settlement helps ensure that our most critical water resources are protected for future generations, which has always been our primary goal.”

“We are hopeful that this settlement will send a message to clean energy developers across the state that a top-down approach to clean energy development doesn’t work for our island home,” said Kawai Warren of Nā Kia‘i Kai. “Our communities need to have a seat at the table and our voices heard so that these projects can contribute to our state’s clean energy goals without jeopardizing our livelihoods and ways of life. Our community is maka`ala, they did their homework, and they made sure their voices were heard.”

In an announcement late last year, KIUC decided to refocus its plans on the solar-powered pump-storage portion of its proposed project. The project, as initially announced, would have constructed two hydro power systems—the solar pump-storage component, and an additional flow-through component diverting river water through a century-old plantation ditch system previously used for sugar cultivation.

Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of Pō‘ai Wai Ola and Nā Kia‘i Kai against the Department of Land and Natural Resources in February 2023 for issuing a “finding of no significant impact” on the EA of the dual hydro project. In addition to not examining the impact of water diversions, the EA also failed to evaluate the foreseeable consequences of discharging much of that water onto the Mānā Plain where it would collect sediment, pesticides, and other pollution on its way out into the ocean. West Kauaʻi residents rely on Waimea River’s freshwater and coastal resources to feed their families and for a host of recreational and cultural practices.

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