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State draws up rules for dams, reservoirs

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    Under proposed rules, major dams and reservoirs in Hawaii would have to be certified by the state. Owners could face fines up to $25,000 a day for not complying. The dam at Kauai's Kaloko Reservoir failed in 2006, killing seven people downstream.

Major dams and reservoirs in the state would need to be certified, and owners could face fines of up to $25,000 a day for noncompliance, under rules proposed by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to prevent a breach like the one that killed seven people on Kauai in 2006.

The rules, scheduled for public hearings in September, would regulate 138 government and private dams and reservoirs statewide.

"We don’t want another break and lives lost," state Land Board Chairwoman Laura Thielen said during a meeting yesterday.

The proposals, carrying out the state Dams and Reservoir Safety Act of 2007, would require qualified owners to have an operations manual, emergency action plan and a certificate of approval. At present the facilities are not required to have them.

Under the proposed rules, the department would have the power to require an owner to conduct tests to determine whether the dam or reservoir should be certified. The department would also have authority to order an owner to lower or drain the dam or reservoir.

The rules would increase the maximum fines for noncompliance to $25,000 from $500 a day and impose an annual fee of $500 per dam or reservoir, plus a sliding scale of $100 per foot of height.

Thielen said the new fees are needed to enable the department to carry out reviews of the dams and reservoirs because the state Legislature has not provided enough funds for inspections.

Carty Chang, acting chief of the department’s Engineering Division, said the projected labor cost of dam inspections is $600,000 a year and that the Legislature has allocated less than $111,000 for it.

The rules would generally apply to dams and reservoirs 25 feet or higher or that hold more than 16 million gallons.

Chang said government-owned dams and reservoirs have asked to be exempted from the rules.

But Chang said an exemption would significantly reduce the division’s revenues for enforcing rules since about 30 percent of the dams and reservoirs are owned by government.

He said some dams and reservoirs are jointly owned by private and government entities.

Thielen said many of the proposed rules are standard requirements nationally and are a move to improve the safety review of dams and reservoirs in Hawaii.

She said state funding has been inadequate. "We want to make sure we can do what we need to do," Thielen said.


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