Wai‘ale‘ale Stream diversion

Wai‘ale‘ale Stream diversion (dam overflow to right)

The waters in this region are celebrated in mele and oli (songs and chants)—including the iconic hula entrance chant “Kūnihi ka Mauna” that recounts part of the goddess Hi‘iaka’s legendary journey between Hawai‘i and Kauaʻi, from lofty Maunakea to lush Wai‘ale‘ale. Today, the movement to reclaim these sacred places for future generations continues to grow.

Waikoko Stream diversion

Waikoko Stream diversion

For nearly 100 years, Līhu‘e Plantation drained Wai‘ale‘ale and Waikoko Streams dry. Although sugar production ended in 2000, Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) has continued to divert water to run its Waiahi hydro plants, two relics of the plantation era that generate less than one percent of the island’s electricity.

These streams are among the few upland tributaries accessible to the public for swimming, gathering, hi‘uwai (cleansing), and other community uses. Yet KIUC is pursuing a long-term water lease for its diversions that would perpetuate the hewa (wrong) for another 65 years.

Hui Ho‘opulapula Nā Wai o Puna, represented by Earthjustice, has been watchdogging the long-term lease process and participating in a contested case hearing to determine how much water must remain in the streams.

Water protectors stand together

Water protectors stand together

In August 2018, the state water commission held a public hearing on a staff proposal to let KIUC divert up to two-thirds of the flow from both streams. After a day of community testimony, the commissioners began considering whether to cap KIUC’s diversions at one-half of natural streamflow levels. KIUC then requested a contested case hearing, cutting off the commissioners’ discussion. The Hui responded with its own request to preserve the community’s rights. Recently, contested case proceedings were suspended so the water commission can reconsider its proposed streamflow restoration levels. On May 1, the Hui filed a lawsuit to end the Board of Land and Natural Resources’ practice of renewing KIUC’s one-year revocable water permit without first assessing the permit’s impacts on public trust water uses. The Hui’s fight to restore water to Wai‘ale‘ale and Waikoko Streams and hold the government accountable continues.

Working for the Restoration of Wailua

  • 1300s-1820s

    Wailua flourishes as the center of spiritual and political power on Kaua‘i, with heiau (temples), pōhaku hānau (birthing stones), and a pu‘uhonua (place of refuge) strategically located across the densely cultivated region.

  • 2000-2002

    Līhu‘e Plantation shuts down, and KIUC takes control of the stream diversions and hydro plants.

  • August 2018

    Water commission staff propose restoring less than one-third of stream flow to Wai‘ale‘ale and Waikoko.  In response to commission discussions to increase the proposal, KIUC requests a contested case hearing.

  • 1920s

    Līhu‘e Plantation begins construction on the ‘Ili‘ili‘ula-Hanamā‘ulu portion of the ditch system and installs the original hydro plants to power its sugar operation.

  • 2004

    Office of Hawaiian Affairs challenges KIUC’s application for a 65-year water lease and forces KIUC to complete studies documenting the impacts of its diversions on stream life and cultural practices.

  • November 2019

    KIUC issues a draft environmental assessment claiming that a 65-year water lease will have no significant impact on stream life and cultural practices.  Community members respond with comments in strong opposition.