Big Island Water Problems After Quakes Damage Ditches

Ed Botello
Ed Botello
Ed Gomes
Ed Gomes

By : Diane Ako

KOHALA (KHNL)- Big Island farmers are flooded with fears after major water supplies dry up. The October 15 earthquakes shut down 3 big agricultural water sources, leaving residents high and dry. They are the Hamakua Ditch, the Waimea Ditch, and the Kohala Ditch. And they went from carrying tens of millions of gallons of water a day, to zero.

All three ditches carry water from streams atop the Kohala Mountains. Aerial inspections have shown landslides covering the ditches, but no one knows if they have been crushed or are just full of dirt. The private, 22.5-mile Kohala Ditch used to carry up to 15 million gallons of water a day to about 50 agricultural customers like Cloverleaf Dairy Farms, which produces a third of all the milk sold on the big island. The farm took a massive hit when the ditch dried up. President Ed Botello says, "When the ditch shut down it was like a lifeline was cut to our area."

Botello is using the county water supply now, which is inconvenient and costly. The ditch water came from the top of the mountain. The county water comes from the bottom. Botello must turn valves to force water to flow uphill. He sighs, "Wait till you see my bills. I had to put in new water lines, plus there is the cost of water. My bill's going up 80% or more. I was out here at 2 am moving valves to keep the cows watered."

And that's still not enough. Botello frets, "There is not just enough water."

Ditch owner Surety Kohala Corporation says fly bys show major damage. Kohala administrator Mike Gomes says, "By air, we see a collapsed flume in the ditch. A wooden structure of collapsed timbers is partially buried in an avalanche of boulders."

The ground is still too unstable to hike into the mountains for further assessments. Repairs will be a long time in coming, says Gomes. "We don't know how long, but surely, months. We'll do our darndest to get things going."

It might not be soon enough for farmers like Botello. "It's a day by day operation right now. That's all we can do."

Surety Corporation has drilled 2 wells that might yield 1 million gallons per day once they are up and running. It's also looking at new sources for water.