Flooding Problem on the Radar

Replacement of Kawela Bridge one of several solutions considered.

By Zalina Alvi

As flooding in the Kawela area continues to worsen annually, the problem is finally catching the attention of national organizations who can take action, thanks to the help of the Molokai Governor’s Advisory Council.

At a recent meeting of the council, representatives from various groups discussed options for dealing with what has become a watershed management issue with a few likely causes and even more potential solutions.

The Problem
A healthy watershed is an area of land that collects everything from mist to torrential downpours, and disperses the water gradually. For the last few years, the watershed above Kawela has been leaving coastal areas flooded. Mass erosion caused by large goat populations in the uplands allow for flash flooding to occur during heavy rains.  Poor drainage due to residential retaining walls and recurring blockages along the Kawela stream and bridge has compounded the problem, according to conservationists dealing with watershed management.

Glynnis Nakai, with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services at the Kakahaia National Wildlife Refuge on Molokai, said their grounds have experienced seasonal flooding for at least the past eight years.

“We expect to get flooded in the winter. There are only two small ditches that drain in that area. And when water comes down, it takes the sediment with it,” she said.

A troubling side effect of the erosion is that sediment gets washed into the ocean choking out the reef and its sea life, which is a common problem with watersheds suffering from extensive erosion like the Kawela watershed.

Bill and Frances Feeter, who attended the council’s July 8 meeting to express their concerns, also experience flooding every winter. They and their neighbors have had to deal with the cost and inconvenience of the heavy flooding.

“We lost our car, several hundreds of dollars just for clean up and repairs. Our other neighbors too, not just us,” Bill said.

Long-term and Short-Term Solutions
Robert Granger, vice-chair for the Molokai Governor’s Advisory Council, is hoping to instigate some short-term and long-term solutions, not on behalf of the council, but as a concerned resident.

He will be trying to encourage a partnership between some of the organizations who attended the meeting, which included several government departments like the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Maui County Public Works and Department of Water Supply and the Department of Transportation.

Other organizations included the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Association of Conservation Districts and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It remains to be seen whether there will be any involvement from the already existing East Molokai Watershed Partnership, a joint venture with The Nature Conservancy and various other organizations that uses the ahupua`a approach to protect the communities of Kamalo and Kapualei.

For now, possible solutions include the replacement of the bridge along Kawela stream, which is often cited as one of the main problems causing the flooding. The Department of Transportation has the replacement scheduled for 2010 for structural reasons. Other possibilities are the use of sediment ponds and to prevent residents from building retaining walls along the highway.

Long-term solutions may include the reduction of the goat population in the area, which will likely play a significant factor in the erosion of the watershed, if some of the discussion at the council’s meeting follows through.
Bill Feeter explained that he and his wife will be using sandbags to try to divert the flooding around their home, but he acknowledged that this is not a permanent solution and said that they have contingency plans to move in the winter.

“Physically, I don’t see how we can do anything about flooding. Not in our lifetime, anyway. It’s a little frustrating,” he said.

What is helping, however, is the show of support and concern at the Governor’s Advisory Council meeting.

“I really want to thank them for taking an issue that really has no immediate solution and bringing it to the attention of some people who can make some long-range plans,” he said.

Nakai agrees. “The fact that we were all the same table was progress. I’d like to see it look further, with more regular discussions and with all the players … This requires a partnership to look at the whole watershed from the top down to solve the actual problem.”


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