Lawmakers want the state to take over Lake Wilson, but it would come at a steep price

Some state lawmakers want the state to take over Wahiawa’s Lake Wilson and the surrounding irrigation system.
Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 6:01 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 23, 2022 at 6:31 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some state lawmakers want the state to take over Wahiawa’s Lake Wilson and the surrounding irrigation system.

But the deal comes at a steep price ― $20 million ― and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources doesn’t want it.

“We oppose this bill because of the significant sort of upfront and ongoing management and regulatory burdens this would place on the department,” said Ian Hirokawa, special projects coordinator for the DLNR’s Land Division.

Some area residents also think state ownership is a bad idea.

“I can’t think of any projects the state has done successfully. I’m worried that this spillway requires regular maintenance, cutting the grass, trimming trees, cutting the logs that float down the river,” said Wahiawa resident Patrick Hannigan.

Because of the risk the 116-year-old earthen dam would fail, Dole Food Co. has been keeping Lake Wilson’s water level low.

Dole said it can’t afford to upgrade the dam and irrigation system so the company and farming organizations want the state to take over.

“That may cost as much as $20 million. This would essentially put Dole out of business in Hawaii,” said Daniel Nellis, operations director at Dole.

A bill now moving in the Senate would have the state own the property and finance improvements to irrigate more farms in Central Oahu which already employ about 500 people.

“This is one of those instances where the state has an opportunity to take on a system and really show its commitment to agriculture,” said Micah Munekata, government affairs director at the Ulupono Initiative.

Added Brian Miyamoto, executive director of the Hawaii Farm Bureau:

“Our concern is if the state doesn’t buy it who will buy it? That entity does it have an interest in agriculture? Will they change the water rates or completely cut off the water,” he said.

Dole said private investors have expressed interest in acquiring Lake Wilson and converting the dam for alternative uses.

For example, it could become a hydroelectric power source and purify the water for drinking.

The state and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply also see opportunity.

“If we are worried about aquifer water availability in the future, we have a 3 billion gallon reservoir,” Nellis said.

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