By Diane Ako
DIAMOND HEAD CRATER, OAHU (KHNL) - It's going on half a year of little or no water for hundreds of Hawaii Island folks. The October 2006 earthquake did some serious damage to 3 major water sources, and 2 of them are still broken.
From his offices at State Civil Defense headquarters, vice director Ed Teixeira points at three big maps on the wall. The first is the North Kohala Ditch. About 50 agricultural customers relied on the private, 22.5-mile ditch for water, which used to carry up to 15 million gallons of water a day to customers from Hawi to Pololu. The ditch is now dry. "The entire repair from the quake and slides is estimated at $3 million," he estimates.
Canyons 3,000 feet deep make it hard to even get in there. A massive slide triggered by the quake covered a water intake system. A closer view shows the water stops at the mound of dirt. "If we can repair these flumes we can return water to this particular ditch."
Teixeira says the private Surity Corporation has set up two wells for people to tap water from, albeit inconvenient and more costly than the water the ditch provided. He says two flumes are also broken; those alone would cost $500,000 to repair. "If we can repair these flumes, we can return water to this particular ditch," he says hopefully.
SECOND WATER SOURCE
The second main water source, the Lower Hamakua Ditch, is also dry. says Teixeira. Inmates and Hawaii National Guardsmen worked to clean it in January, but it's made little difference.
"From the area of Waipio Lookout down to Paauilo, no water is running in this ditch system," signs Teixeira. "It feeds off intake systems in Waipio Valley and it's got 7 miles of tunnels plugged up at certain places." It still provides no water to customers from Waipio to Honokaa.
In January contractors hired by the state Department of Agriculture went in on horseback to assess the damage. "They found some landslides in certain places, and the slides wiped away service trails," recalls Teixeira. "It's still at a critical stage for us."
For now the county set up 2 tap areas for residents, basically water spigots where people can retrieve water. The state is trying to fix it. But they say it's a difficult problem, with no easy answer.
THIRD WATER SOURCE
The state says the third major water source, the Upper Hamakua or Waimea Ditch, has been running normally since November 2006. That's when National Guardsmen and local farmers went in to assess damage. "We found extensive damage to the ditch systems, like debris piled up on the intakes. We managed to go in and clean all of that out. We had water restored to the area by Thanksgiving," smiles Teixeira.
But, the state eventually wants to go in and fix some of the service trails. "This was installed by the sugarcane companies in the 19th century, so it was very old already. The trails to get there were washed away after the quake so it's difficult to get to the intake systems to clear them out."
The work is perilous, though. "There are very steep canyons in that area and it's very dangerous. We've curtailed operations using the National Guard for that reason. Now the DOA, which is leading this cleanup, is seeking a private contractor to do the work," details Teixeira.