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Hawaii News

Reservoir owners, farmers contend proposed dam safety rules too costly

LIHUE » New state rules on dam safety could be too costly for landowners, several people testified yesterday at the first of four public hearings this week on proposed changes.

The main users of water from Hawaii’s reservoirs are farmers, and "farmers are struggling. It’s not a good time to tack on new fees," said Howard Greene, representing major Kauai landowner Gay & Robinson.

Greene estimated that paying higher fees for dam safety requirements for its 13 reservoirs would cost Gay & Robinson $50,000 to $60,00 a year.

Proposed rules from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources will align the agency responsible for monitoring dam safety with laws on dam safety passed in 2007, said Edwin Matsuda, the department’s flood control and dam safety section chief.

The proposed rules include several new fees for dam owners, which help fund dam safety inspections, Matsuda said. There are also provisions for administrative fines and criminal penalties if there are violations.

Those laws were passed after the March 14, 2006, breach of Ka Loko Dam on Kauai, a disaster that killed seven people and caused major property damage.

Testifying at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall yesterday, Greene said that if farmers stop using surface water stored in reservoirs, they’ll use expensive petroleum fuel to pump water from wells, depleting underground aquifers. That would reduce the sustainability of agriculture and "be shooting ourselves in the foot," he said.

A number of others speaking at the hearing agreed.

David Whatmore, a farmer who uses water from Ka Loko Reservoir, said he appreciates the department’s role as an enforcer of dam safety. At the same time, he said, dam safety improvements are "so expensive, it shouldn’t all fall on dam owners."

Public benefits from private reservoirs include groundwater recharge, less use of electricity to pump groundwater and the creation of wildlife habitat at the reservoirs, Whatmore said.

Written comments on the proposed rules will be received by the department until Oct. 25. The Board of Land and Natural Resources will consider approving the proposed rules.

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