Siphon repairs to restore water in Kula Ag Park

About a month after water service was disrupted, relief is in sight for farmers and tenants at the Maui County Kula Agricultural Park with the completion of repairs to a siphon in East Maui Irrigation’s Hamakua ditch system.

The break on April 24 to an elevated portion of EMI’s Hamakua ditch system as it crosses Kailua Gulch cut off the water source to the ag park’s approximately two dozen farmers and EMI’s sister company, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., which could not irrigate 3,100 acres of sugar cane.

About a week after the break, Maui County’s Department of Water Supply, HC&S and others created a temporary waterline for the park as reservoirs were running near empty. In fact, there was a report of no water in the reservoirs about two hours before the two temporary waterlines were up and running May 3.

Garret Hew, president of EMI and HC&S’s water resource manager, said in an email Wednesday that the Hamakua ditch siphon was repaired with concrete Monday. Rain last week delayed the repairs, he added.

He had explained earlier that it was difficult to reach the site because of the steep terrain and that using concrete in the repair process made a completion date uncertain.

Water should be restored next week after wooden forms are removed and the concrete cures, Hew said.

The loss of water to the more than 3,000 acres of HC&S fields likely will impact yields, though the magnitude of losses is unknown at this time, he said.

Teena Rasmussen, director of the county’s Office of Economic Development, which oversees leases for the park’s 31 farm lots, said she did not believe that the farms will see long-term damage because of the cloudy and rainy weather Upcountry during the water disruption.

“That really took the pressure off,” she said.

Prior to the county setting up a temporary water system, Rasmussen said farmers were cutting back water use at least 40 percent.

One farmer said he had to scale back production and had to ask two part-time workers to stay home.

“This has been a wake-up call for the Kula Ag Park tenants and management here at OED,” Rasmussen said in an email. “We will be calling a meeting of the Kula Ag Park committee soon and are going to request that they set up a subcommittee that will assist OED in creating an emergency water plan for the ag park.”

“We got through this with some luck and great collaboration from the Department of Water Supply, HC&S and the farmers. We need to take the lessons this offered and be proactive with solutions to future problems that could arise with these aging water systems,” Rasmussen added.

When the break occurred, HC&S apologized, adding that it does its best to maintain the 100-year-old, 72 miles of ditches, flumes and siphons in its East Maui water system.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at