POSTED 21 APRIL 2007 - 8:30am HST

Hanapepe & Waimea Levees faulty

View from Hanapepe "Swinging" Bridge of east and west levees

by Juan Wilson on 21 April 2007

A February article in the Honolulu Star Bulletin noted that two levees on Kauai have been identified by the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) as being in danger of failing. They are the Waimea and Hanapepe levees.

As someone who has lived behind the western levee of the Hanapepe Valley, I can say that this is a life and death issue to me. Since moving to the valley I have always wondered why the only "attention" I see the levee get is the regular spraying of herbicide along the east entire east bank leaving a landscape of gray death in its wake. It seemed an ugly an ineffective way of doing maintenance.

In 2006, when Kauai was inundated with 40 days of continuous rain the big headline was the spectacular collapse of the Koloko Dam above Moloaa on March 2nd. What did not make headlines was the near topping of the Hanapepe levee a few days later.

Neglect was an issue then. For months prior to the near topping of the levee Hanapepe residents noted the accumulation of several large trees just upstream from the 1911 one-lane bridge. These trees had been swept down the river from higher in the valley and had come to rest in that broad shallow part of the river.

Older residents remembered that when the levee was only partially completed that winter rains washed many trees, like the ones in the shallows, against the bridge. Debris was caught in the pile-up reducing flow under the structure. This resulted in a backup of the river water that eventually topped levee construction and flooded homes. Even with the Koloko Dam failure and continued rain, neither the County or State did anything to clear the trees north of the bridge.


Clearing around west bank levee gates of Hanapepe River previously overgrown

Now, after the embarrassment of the ACE report, something is being done about the problem. More pesticides. It appears to be glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup Pro (Monsanto) and Touchdown Total (Syngenta). This is the same chemical sprayed along the side of our county roads and was involved with the Waimea Elementary School health problems reported multiple times since last fall.

I'm sure there is more planned than just herbicide application. Besides spraying poison along both banks of the river, the work has included cutting down about an acre of trees.

Besides the health risks to the public and their pets, the wide spraying of herbicides over the levees left them vulnerable to severe erosion had we had the weather experienced last year. Moreover, the results are hideous. The Swinging Bridge and the view from it have been a major tourist attraction in Hanapepe. Not so today.

The clearing down to the soil along the levee was avoided only where local residents had been landscaping and maintaining the levee on their own and made some sort of stand.

Several hundred foot section of the Hanapepe levee maintained by Ben Kali

One case on the west bank was immediately north of the illustration above. A long section of the levee there has been maintained by Hanapepe Valley resident Ben Kali, at one time he was the grounds keeper and landscaper at Ele'ele School. Ben has planted a wall of bougainvillea in a variety of colors along the base of the levee that are a beautiful sight from the town across the river. He maintains some larger trees, including coconut as well. The embankment is a dense grass.

Ben put up posts and warning tape with a sign asking the levee workers to avoid undoing his work. To date, his planting on the embankment has prevailed.

Although it may take more labor and effort to landscape without clear cutting and poisoning every plant on a site, the results are, in the case of a levee in a residential area, less risk to the public.

More recently, on the east side of the river, near the Swinging Bridge, Joanne Carolan, of Banana Patch Studio, began planting bougainvillea and maintaining lawn. Her section of the levee was spared from herbicide as well.

Lawn at the base of the east Hanapepe River levee behind Banana Patch Studio

We will see if a major reconstruction of the levee will follow. Whatever ensues, the government agencies involved have chosen an unattractive way of starting their project. We hope it is not a sign of things to come.

We recommend that the County, on its part, abandon the universal use of glyphosate products as a substitute for landscaping. It is ugly and dangerous.

see also:
Island Breath: Waimea School Poisoning 1/12/2007
Island Breath: End Hawaii Herbicide Use 2/28/2006
Island Breath: Roundup Free Kauai 3/31/2005
Island Breath: Pesticide in Hawaii 6/2/2004