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
As construction began, the only way to get to Flume No. 1 would be through the ditch itself. The dried-out tunnel system, opening up 4 miles below Flume No. 1, served as an access point for workers and equipment. However, the tunnels in the upper parts of the valley were blocked by landslide debris.
Contractors undertook the grueling work of clearing out the dark, dingy caverns. Traversing through miles of tunnel on ATVs, workers slowly chipped away at the blockage.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” said Shontell. And a history lesson. Many of the men had lived in North Kohala all their lives, but never realized how much effort had gone into its construction at the turn of the last century. The lack of space in the narrow tunnel network forced workers to use methods and equipment similar to those of the original ditch laborers.
Once access into the backcountry was gained, restoration of Flume No. 1 was in full swing. An aluminum pipe four feet in diameter—shipped from California and brought into the valley by helicopter—replaced the destroyed wooden flume. Several flumes further along the system were rebuilt or reinforced.
Volunteer crews spent hundreds of hours clearing away Christmas berry shrubs, guava trees and trash that accumulated in the ditch along the lower parts of the system. To raise money and awareness, the Kohala Ditch Steering Committee printed thousands of T-shirts with slogans like “Save the Ditch” and “Got Water?”
Petitions were circulated to drum up public support. Some of the comments were blunt: “My employment depends on ditch repairs,” wrote Cloverleaf Dairy workers.
“It’s exciting to see the community come together,” says Bowles. He sees a silver lining to the ordeal, the uniting of the people of North Kohala, reminiscent of the tight-knit communities of generations past. “It’s like we’re going back in time.”
It seemed like major ditch repairs were completed in the fall of 2008, with the return of a steady flow of water. Still, not all of the restored ditch water was arriving at Cloverleaf Dairy and the other businesses in the lower parts of Hawi and Hoea. The reason? Seepage. The fine sediment, which had lined the ditch floor and created a watertight seal, dried to dust after the earthquake. As much as 3 million to 6 million gallons of water now seeped into the earth every day. To remedy this, a 12-inch-wide pipeline was installed to help channel the water. It’s a temporary solution while other options—including lining the ditch with a concrete or plastic barrier—are being evaluated.
More than that has changed. The ditch now will belong to the community that helped save it. Surety Kohala Co. is handing over ownership of the Kohala Ditch to a soon-to-established nonprofit organization.
The transfer was almost inevitable. “Surety isn’t in the ditch business,” adds Flynn. “It is in the land-development business.”
The ditch was also too important to leave to the financial resources of a single company. “The ditch is a black hole for us,” says Shontell. Even before the quake, Surety was charging water users less than it cost to maintain the ditch. “We’ve basically subsidized the lifestyle for farmers of the district for the last 20 years.”
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