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Century-old water pipe system bursts amid rainstorm

Ruptured siphon pipe in Waihee sends water skyward, sparks concerns

A rupture in Wailuku Water Co.’s Waihee siphon pipe causes water to blast more than 60 feet in the air on Monday. Company President Avery Chumbley said he suspected a large boulder damaged the pipe during the recent storm. A timeline for repairs is forthcoming. HUI O NA WAI ‘EHA photos

Likely caused by a large boulder, a portion of a century-old water pipe system in Central Maui ruptured Monday and started blasting water into the sky following Sunday’s rainstorm.

In addition to high winds, heavy showers and high surf, the Kona low storm strengthened Wailuku River’s waterflow this weekend, creating rock movement on the riverbed that possibly struck the Waihee Ditch siphon pipe.

“Until the streamflow subsides and we’re able to get in and do a thorough inspection, we won’t be able to determine what caused the rupture of the siphon pipe,” Wailuku Water Co. President Avery Chumbley said on Tuesday.

However, Chumbley said he suspects that a large boulder “most likely” landed on top of the pipe. He cited the U.S. Geological Survey Water Resource, where gauges for Wailuku River reached 1,620-plus cubic feet per second on Sunday, a flow of over a million gallons of water a day.

Nonprofit Hui o Na Wai ‘Eha, which advocates for protection of the four main central valley waterways — Wailuku and Waihee rivers and Waikapu and Waiehu streams — said they were notified early Monday morning about the major break in the pipe.

A pipe in Waihee that was ruptured during the recent storm and caused water to shoot skyward is part of a nearly century-old plantation system that many residents, local farmers, businesses and other large companies rely on.

The organization documented the water shooting more than 60 feet into the air on social media.

“The portion of the system that was damaged, like most of Wailuku Water Co.’s water delivery system as the Hui has consistently stated, is antiquated, has large system losses and lacks the proper management to guarantee long-term water delivery,” Hui o Na Wai ‘Eha said in a statement to The Maui News on Tuesday.

Following an immediate site inspection, the hui notified the State Commission on Water Resource Management and other stakeholders about the possible short- and long-term disruption of water delivery.

They requested that the community be made aware of all repair work.

Chumbley said that a Wailuku Water Co. crew was sent on foot into Waihee Valley on Tuesday afternoon during a break in the weather to shut down the water diversion in order to slow down Wailuku River’s flow. An inspection will be made next.

But until a full analysis takes place, the Wailuku Water Co. president said that he cannot estimate the time frame in which the pipe will be repaired.

The water system, which was built in 1907, provides about 70 percent of county drinking water to Maui residents, along with allocations for private landowners, large companies like Mahi Pono and the Maui Tropical Plantation, the Kahili/Kamehameha Golf Course and more than 30 kuleana users, many of whom are Native Hawaiians that grow kalo.

Part of Hui o Na Wai ‘Eha’s mission is to support kalo farmers in restoring cultural practices involving access to water via the stream where possible as a means to reduce their dependence on Wailuku Water Co.’s “derelict irrigation system.”

“The break in the Waihe’e Ditch siphon is a fine example of why this part of our mission is so critically important,” the hui said. “Unfortunately, kuleana subsistence lo’i kalo farmers throughout Na Wai ‘Eha are the ones who suffer the most in these kinds of situations due to the fact that they were forced to give up their traditional and customary access to ‘auwai irrigation systems that connected directly to streams during the reign of the Wailuku Sugar Plantation.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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