Could the Dambreak Have Been Prevented? Part 1

Squeezed March 15, 2006

The water from Kaloko Reservoir had no sooner started to rage than the fingers have started to point. The question is simple: could the Kaloko Reservoir dam break on Kauai been prevented? Sure it could have. But then from there the question become: Who do we blame for it?

My own answer: no one. Not yet, at least.

There are two main schools of thought here, and there is no doubt some overlap. I’ll cover one here.

Did construction near the reservoir led to its collapse? User LikaNui at HawaiiThreads has dredged up some dirt (so to speak) that seems to suggest that the disaster that happened today may not have just been bad luck and heavy rains, but something that could have been prevented. And commenter Bill Moake concurs.

Some background: Retired Hawaii auto dealer James Pflueger decided that certain parts of his land were too steep, so he set about grading them. The only thing is that he failed to get the necessary permits and guidance from the EPA under the Clean Water Act. As a result, runoff from the site flowed into nearby Pilaa Beach and polluted the bay. Certain environmental interests, and the EPA, were not happy, to put it mildly.

In all, Pflueger has had to pay over $12 million in claims and fines. The EPA called it the largest single settlement against a single landowner regarding a single site.

The connection: Pflueger had apparently done some grading work around Kaloko Reservoir without the proper permits. Yes, the same Kaloko Reservoir that burst yesterday. The two major papers both mentioned this fact in their reports, but the jury’s still out as to whether it was THE cause of the break. At first glance, the EPA doesn’t think so:

“We don’t believe the failure of the dam is related to any of the work done by Pflueger in that area,” said Dean Higuchi, spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one of the many agencies that announced Pflueger’s $7.5 million settlement March 9.

But I’m sure this is not going to be the final word on the matter. Nor should it. It’s definitely worth investigating. But not now.

Of course, more investigation is needed here as to the cause of the dam breaking. Maybe it could just be the rains…we’ve received as much rain in the past three weeks as we would normally get in the first three months of the year. But there’ll be time enough to cry over spilled milk…uh, water. Let’s let the emergency responders do their job first.

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