HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a controversial decision Friday, the state Land Board voted 4-to-3 to allow the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative to continue diverting stream water from Mount Waialeale to feed two hydropower plants.
The board approved a revocable permit for KIUC to continue overseeing the Blue Hole diversion -- a dam that was built in the 1920s to supply power and water to the Lihue sugar plantation.
KIUC took over the diversion in 2003 and says it has been trying to get a long-term lease with the state for years.
"It's been about a decade or more since we first started down the process of obtaining the lease. There's been numerous environmental studies done, cultural studies done," said David Bissell, president and CEO of KIUC.
The board's decision upset some Kauai residents, who say KIUC has been illegally diverting water for years because the utility doesn't have a required water lease and the proper environmental studies have not been completed.
"Until they come into compliance with their required studies, I don't see how this board can keep on renewing this permit," said resident Hope Kallai.
Kallai says on some days, the dam can divert 100-percent of the base water flow, leaving the stream beds dry for several hundred yards.
Last year, vandals even used concrete-cutting equipment to damage the diversion.
"This diversion breaks the perennial stream. It destroys the mauka to makai flow from Waialeale to the ocean. That's not right and that's not legal," Kallai said.
The utility agrees that the infrastructure is outdated and wants to make changes.
But Bissell says before they make any large investments, they need a long-term lease first.
"I'm confident that when the long-term permit goes into place, there will be connectivity all the way from the mountains to the water," Bissell said.
KIUC says the hydropower plants generate about 1.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to displace about 500,00 gallons of diesel every year.
The state is in the process of developing instream flow standards, which would set limits on how much water can be diverted.