What happened to the Big Island of Hawaii's Flumin' Da Ditch tour? An update.by: Chris Bailey
posted: Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 10:57 AM
Making matters worse, the extensive trail system that connected Flume No. 1 and the upper stretches of the ditch to the neighboring regions was either buried under tons of debris or sheared right off the mountainside, making a topographically perilous area even more volatile. It was almost impossible to even analyze the extent of the damage.
“We knew we were in for the long haul, but we wouldn’t know how bad it was for months,” says Steve Bowles, a principal coordinator for the Kohala Ditch Project Steering Committee.
Built in 1905 and 1906, the Kohala Ditch is an engineering feat, an intricate system of open ditches, cavernous tunnels, flumes, dams and reservoirs spanning 14.5 miles, snaking through valleys, mountains and open pasture, all designed to supply water to the area’s then-burgeoning sugar industry.
More than 600 Japanese laborers worked day and night under treacherous conditions. The men drilled through solid rock, blasted tunnels into miles of mountain and built dozens of concrete and wood flumes. Seventeen died in the 18 months of construction.
Prior to the earthquake, the ditch still carried 8 million to 10 million gallons of water per day to areas all across North Kohala—feeding the rural towns of Hawi, Kapaau and Hikapoloa.
Without water, farmers in these agriculture-heavy areas were in a panic.
“It was a total disaster,” said Ed Boteilho, owner of Cloverleaf Dairy, one of two remaining dairies in Hawaii, and one of the biggest users of water from the ditch.
A well installed by Surety Kohala just days before the quake became the life support for Cloverleaf and 27 other farms in the area. Nearly 500,000 gallons of water were pumped daily—Cloverleaf alone needed 100,000 gallons to operate its dairy and sustain its 800 cows. The water levels were nowhere near their pre-quake state, but the well water bought farmers time.
Where would the money come from to fund the massive repairs needed on the ditch? The ditch was privately owned, leaving it ineligible for federal and state funs from FEMA or the Hawaii state Department of Agriculture.
Hopes faded. “You saw it in the faces of some of the old-timers in the community,” says Rory Flynn, facilitator for the Kohala Ditch Project Steering Committee. “They knew what a complicated system this was. They knew how challenging restoring it would be. They thought we’d never raise the money. And you can see the sadness. ‘What are we going to do without the ditch?’ they asked.”
The community did not stand idle for long. Residents met to discuss how money could be raised, planting the seed for the Kohala Ditch Project Steering Committee. The only way to save the ditch, the group concluded, would be through the role of agriculture in the area.
The group aligned with a local nonprofit organization, the North Kohala Community Resource Center, and began exploring every option. The committee raised more than $4.5 million in public and private monies, including $2 million in federal funds, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. Hawaii state Civil Defense provided fiscal oversight for the public repair funds and contributed to the operating costs of the interim pumping project.
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