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State fines owners of Oahu and Big Isle dams $25K for failure to address risks

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources has fined the owners of two dams — one on Oahu and one on Hawaii island — for not addressing risks associated with major deficiencies to dam structures.

BLNR on Friday announced that the owner of Wahiawa Dam, the Dole Food Company Hawaii, was fined $20,000, and the owner of the Keaiwa Reservoir, the Edmund C. Olson Trust No. II, was fined $7,500.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources Safety Program brought the enforcement actions before the board to ensure dam owners take necessary steps to maintain their dam structures, as well as comply with state safety standards and regulations.

The action comes just about a month after heavy rains caused the aging Kaupakalua Reservoir and Dam on Maui to overflow, resulting in the emergency evacuation of some 150 downstream homes.

Kaupakalua Reservoir and Dam, owned by East Maui Irrigation, is among dams in Hawaii described as unsatisfactory, and put on notice for failing to have a real-time reservoir water level gauge, among other issues. Kaupakalua is slated for removal some time this summer.

A third enforcement action was brought against the owner of Ukumehame reservoir on Maui. However, West Maui Investors LLC, representing the owner, requested a contested case hearing, resulting in a deferral.

The goal of the Dam Safety Program is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public by reducing the risk of failure of dams and reservoirs, according to DLNR Chief Engineer Carty Chang.

DLNR said of 130 state-regulated dams in Hawaii, 126 are classified as high or significant hazard potential structures due to proximity to people and structures downstream. All regulated dams — except one — now have emergency action plans on file with the state.

“These enforcement actions will help our program more effectively work with dam owners to ensure they meet their requirements to minimize risks to lives and property while also preserving these valuable water resources that provide many beneficial uses for the people of Hawaii,” said Chang in a news release. “It is extremely important to recognize that our aging dam structures need to be able to withstand severe storm events. It’s not just the law, it’s in the best interest of our community and future generations.”

BLNR Chair Suzanne Case said the state was taking proactive steps in the face of climate change.

“These are proactive steps towards staying ahead of our aging dams and the impacts of climate change, bringing more frequent and more intense rainstorms, which collectively, can be disastrous if not addressed today,” she said. “Moving forward, we will continue to work with dam owners to keep our communities safe and to preserve the benefits created by the dams.”

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