POSTED: 23 SEPTEMBER 2007 -  9:00am HST

Hanapepe levee in peril of winter rains

image above: AFTER - looking west from the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge at denuded levee.

by Linda Harmon on 19 September 2007

[Editor's Note: After the Kaloko Dam collapse, the Army Corps of Engineering ordered a statewide examination of all dams and levees. The two worst levees in the state have been estimated to be those on the Hanapepe and Waimea Rivers. Last spring, in order to make more detailed studies and repairs, Kauai County Publics Works department was instructed to begin removing all vegetation from the levee embankments. This was done in Hanapepe and Waimea. Herbicides were used to kill the heavily overgrown levees. All the trees were cut down. The result was a raw earth embankment. Heavy equipment was purchased to grub out the stumps of trees. Fill was brought in and compacted in places where the levee was gullied. Then the work stopped. All this late summer nothing has been done to prepare the levees for new planting. Winter is approaching and winter storms will be a real problem.The following is the text of a letter identifying the problems and calling on the County to take action before there is an environmental disaster.]

I live in the flood zone of the Hanapepe Valley near the levee that was constructed in the 1960's to hold back would be flood waters from overflowing the Hanapepe River banks and damaging and destroying homes and other property here.

I am writing to tell you about a environmental problem that concerns inhabitants in the Hanapepe Valley, myself included. I fear our Hanapepe levee may collapse during a hurricane or strong tropical storm and cause widespread damage to the river and surrounding community. Even a normal series of winter rainstorms is likely to produce damage to the levee and create significant muddy runoff into both the Hanapepe River and gardens and farms inside the levee.

Following the Katrina Hurricane the Army Core of Engineers told the County of Kauai that the Hanapepe and Waimea levees did not meet the readiness standards they determined needed to be in place to stop flood waters from penetrating the levee.

Since the spring the Department of Public Works has stripped and defoliated all grass bushes and trees from the levee and its surroundings so that it would be in plain view for inspection by the Core.

The nearly mile of levee on the west side of the river was returned to its former dimensions with fill and grading equipment for some months ago. But the levee is bare of vegetation and its sides consist of unreinforced loose dirt.

I have been assured by the Department of Public Works that the levee will be planted with some kind of ground cover to hold it in place during strong winds and rain. The department wants to determine whether an irrigation system is needed and then decide on what to plant.

My fear is nothing can be planted and take hold in time for this winter's rain storms that are approaching. It is likely there will be significant mud slides into the river causing a die off of river flora and fauna on large scale not to mention covering any coral reef beyond the river mouth that might be trying to make a comeback.

The very improvements the County has tried to implement may be washed aside during a storm, allowing flood waters to descend on us due to the county letting the ball drop on replanting the levee.
Certainly, if there is damage to property or the environment the County will have exposure that could easily have been avoided.


image above: BEFORE - looking east from the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge at vegetated levee.