Hawaii dam breach spurs emergency inspection program

A rain-battered, century-old plantation dam failed March 14 on the island of Kauai, killing two women and one man. Authorities searched for four other people reported missing following the Kaloko Reservoir Dam breach, which sent water and mud surging through several homes.

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle called on the Legislature to appropriate $14.3 million in emergency funds, some of which is to be used to hire consultants to determine the structural integrity of dams and reservoirs statewide, assess immediate risks, and recommend long-term plans to ensure dam safety. The funds also would be applied to recovery efforts following weeks of storms.

The board of the Department of Land and Natural Resources held an emergency meeting March 16 to authorize the department, the attorney general, and other investigators to enter private property to inspect dams and reservoirs on Kauai.

By March 21, about half of Kauai’s dams had been examined by engineers from the department and the Corps of Engineers. A spokesman said preliminary findings indicated none of the dams inspected was in danger of failing. Assessments of all of the island’s dams were to be completed by March 24.

There are 133 dams on the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Hawaii Inventory of Dams: 53 on Kauai, 16 on Oahu, 51 on Maui, Molokai, and Lanai, and 13 on Hawaii. The department, which administers Hawaii’s Dam Safety Program, inspected no dams during 2005 and early 2006. Since mid-2005, its dam safety and flood control section has operated with one engineer.

Water pouring from the 1890s-era Kaloko dam washed out a major roadway in addition to several homes, isolating rural homes and luxury condominiums on the island’s North Shore. The Honolulu Star Bulletin reported the 44-foot-tall dam, built to impound a maximum of 1,400 acre-feet, is owned by retired auto dealer James Pflueger. The state dam inventory identified the owner of the dam as the Mary N. Lucas Trust Estate.

Hawaii, Missouri breaches draw congressional attention

The Hawaii dam break is the latest in a series of dam safety incidents that have sparked the attention of Congress.

The Kaloko Reservoir Dam breach followed the December failure of the upper reservoir at AmerenUE’s 408-MW Taum Sauk pumped-storage project in Missouri and the near-failure last fall of the 173-year-old Whittenton Pond Dam in Massachusetts.

Reps. Randy Kuhl, R-N.Y.; Jim Matheson, D-Utah; and Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, introduced legislation March 16 that would reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program administered by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Dam Safety Act of 2006 (H.R.4981) would provide up to $12.7 million a year for four years to help states improve their dam safety programs.

In the Senate, the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act (S.2444) would provide up to $350 million over four years through the NDSP to make repairs to 2,600 U.S. dams thought to be unsafe, the Dam Safety Coalition said.

Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, both D-Hawaii, introduced other dam safety legislation, a companion bill to a 2005 House bill introduced by Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., that would provide funds to states and localities for repair and rehabilitation of publicly owned dams.

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