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What happened to the Big Island of Hawaii's Flumin' Da Ditch tour? An update.

Flumin_Da_Ditch_tour_Big_Island_Hawaii_updateFor many Big Island of Hawaii visitors, the 14.5-mile-long Kohala Ditch on the island’s northwestern tip conjures memories of the popular floating tour, Flumin’ Da Ditch. HAWAII Magazine readers who fondly remember drifting leisurely by kayak down a four-mile section of the fresh water irrigation system still write us asking about the return of the now-discontinued tour.

To the small towns dotting the North Kohala coastline, however, the ditch was more than kayaks and tours. It was an economic lifeline and historical landmark for an area dependent on the success of its collection of small agribusinesses.

On a sunny Sunday morning in October 2006, everything changed. A pair of earthquakes rocked the Big Island’s South Kohala coast, their shockwaves damaging key sections of the ditch system located in the mountainous regions of North Kohala. In mere seconds, a major source of water to the towns and farms on the coast below was gone.

In HAWAII Magazine's November/December 2009 print edition feature story "Savin' the Ditch," we documented the Big Island community of Hawi’s fight to bring the Kohala Ditch back. Community leaders offered HAWAII Magazine exclusive access to the ditch system, which is largely closed to the public. We explored the intricate network of tunnels and reconstructed flumes. We asked about the future of the Flumin’ Da Ditch tour. And we spoke with the farmers and businesspeople whose lives and livelihood depend on the fresh water the ditch carries. It was an incredible experience.

Here is the story of a community's remarkable efforts to restore the Kohala Ditch:


“Savin’ the Ditch”

A Big Island community fights to keep the Kohala Ditch flowing.

By Chris Bailey
(from the November/December 2009 issue of HAWAII Magazine)

On the morning of Oct. 16, 2006, Bill Shontell, from the Big Island land developer Surety Kohala Co., boarded a helicopter to tour the rugged west branch of Honokane Nut Valley—worried about what he might find.

The helicopter dropped deep into Honokane Nui, hovering 50 feet above the valley floor in a space no wider than six or seven helicopters across. Vibrations from the copter triggered small landslides of now loose rock. The peaceful valley had become a perilous deathtrap.

Surety wanted to see if a pair of earthquakes the day before had damaged the Kohala Ditch system—the primary source of water for the island’s agriculture-rich northwestern peninsula. The quakes, measuring 6.7 and 6.0 on the Richter scale, tore through the entire island, but were based mere miles west of the North Kohala region.

From a safer vantage point of a few hundred feet in the air, Surety’s worst fears were confirmed: Flume No. 1, the manmade channel that connected the main dam intake and headwaters to miles of open ditch, was gone—reduced to splinters from a post-quake landslide. “Just looking at it we could tell the damage was bad,” says Shontell.

Very bad, actually. The Kohala Ditch was severed from its source. Water shut off like a faucet.

Farms and businesses that relied on the steady flow of water were instantly hit. A few businesses, such as Flumin’ Da Ditch—an ecotour company that offered a floating tour of a 4-mile stretch of the ditch to thousands of visitors each year—shut down immediately.

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Check out these related HawaiiMagazine.com posts:
What happened to Flumin' Da Ditch kayak tours?
Savin’ the Ditch. Where can I get a Kohala Ditch t-shirt?
Tubing the ditch on Kauai

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