Dole Foods works on broken valve, Lake Wilson water level 'stabilized'

DLNR interim director William Aila takes a close look at Lake Wilson.
DLNR interim director William Aila takes a close look at Lake Wilson.

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

WAHIAWA (HawaiiNewsNow) - The interim head of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources on Tuesday got a first-hand look at the low water level at Lake Wilson, which has been draining due to a broken valve.

Workers at Dole Foods, which leases the reservoir and is responsible for its maintenance, have been scrambling to stop the drain. State officials say the valve that's been causing the problem is now at least two-thirds of the way closed.

Meanwhile, state aquatics officials are monitoring the fish population in hopes that it will survive. Annette Tagawa and her team are trying to make sure the amount of oxygen in Lake Wilson doesn't drop to a deadly level.

"Once the oxygen is used up, the fish won't be able to breathe and they'll die and we will have a massive fish kill," Tagawa, DLNR aquatic biologist, said.

The lake is home to hundreds of tons of fish, including bass, blue gill and catfish. They became packed in a smaller space, when the water level began plummeting.

"It's like crowding a bunch of us in a room," Tagawa said. "You're going to use the oxygen up much faster."

The lake level is now at about 57 feet, which is as much as 20 feet lower than normal. On Sunday, the shopping carts, trash and tree roots that used to be underwater were no longer hidden.

"Initially, my reaction is, wow, we've lost a lot of water," William Aila, DLNR director nominee, said.

But the departure of water has slowed since Dole Foods began efforts Monday to close the valve that's been stuck in the open position.

"The valve, as I understand it, is a big wheel that is attached to a big metal screw that goes down that mechanically closes the valve," Aila said. "They're wrestling with this valve that's very old with pry bars and things like that."

Dole officials say they've shut down the valve enough to stabilize the lake level. They say some water is still coming out, which is normal, and it's used for irrigation.

The fish are counting on Mother Nature to do the rest.

"We expect some rains," Aila said. "So if we can get the water level to come up higher and the temperatures to cool, the water holds more oxygen and then it's a much better condition for the fish."

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