HAIKU, Maui — The aging Maui dam that overflowed on Monday, causing flooding and forcing evacuations downstream, had been the subject of enforcement action by state and county officials over the past year and is slated to be removed later this summer.

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources said Tuesday that owners of the Kaupakalua Dam were issued a notice of violation last month for failing to comply with safety requirements mandated by the state in February 2020.

Specifically, the state said, East Maui Irrigation Co. and Mahi Pono, the dam’s owners, still have not installed an internet-accessible, real-time water level gauge in the Kaupakalua Reservoir that the DLNR required they put in by the end of May last year, after the last gauge was stolen in 2018.

EMI and Mahi Pono are now working with the state to replace the Kaupakalua gauge and to install gauges at three Maui reservoirs — Reservoir 24, Kapalaalaea, and Haiku — the state said.

DLNR said Tuesday the Kaupakalua dam was considered to be in “unsatisfactory” condition.

A bridge destroyed by flood waters on Nahe Road trapped wrecked vehicles and other debris. Jack Truesdale/Civil Beat/2021

The companies applied for a permit last October to remove the dam, which is slated for removal this summer, the DLNR said.

The reservoir was dry before the rain storm and is not used to collect water for irrigation, Mahi Pono’s media representative Dawn Hirai wrote in a statement on Tuesday.

“It was determined that removing the dam and decommissioning the reservoir was the best option,” Hirai wrote.

 

The Kaupakalua Dam, located in Haiku on Maui, overflowed Monday amid heavy rains, destroying or damaging at least six homes, according to Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino.

Constructed in 1885, the dam has been classified as highly hazardous, the DLNR website shows.

Melani Chang stands outside her flooded home on Tuesday. Jack Truesdale/Civil Beat/2021

Downstream of the Kaupakalua Dam, Hana Highway flooded with rushing water. On Nahe Road, a small bumpy road off West Kuiaha Road and parallel to Hana Highway, the water burst through one couple’s house and ripped out a bridge leading to several families’ homes.

Melani Chang and her neighbor were in Chang’s house on Nahe Road when the water came.

“We were stuck in there,” Chang said. “Once it started coming into the house, it kept getting higher and we were freaking.”

Over the dozen or more years that they have rented the house, Chang’s partner, Scott Anderson, said, “It’s rained like hell, and nothing’s ever happened.”

A beam holding up the front of their house was bent out of place, and the couple thinks that the property shifted on its foundation. An upturned tractor, a muddy bicycle, and various tools lay strewn across the yard. Two inches of mud covered the floor of Chang and Anderson’s house this morning.

“I’ve been scooping this stuff up for I don’t know how long now, and we can’t get water so we can’t wash up, we can’t wash nothing down,” Chang said.

“We’ve seen more rain than this. It was mostly that water from that dam, I guess,” Chang said. “Because the stream has never done that.”

Further on down the road, a wooden bridge was ripped off its I-beams and sitting in the riverbed. Two cars had been carried downstream and lay crushed against the beams. Though Nahe Road is not located within the official evacuation zone of Kaupakalua Reservoir, it is downhill from the reservoir.

The aftermath of flood waters in Melani Chang’s bedroom. Jack Truesdale/Civil Beat/2021

Paul Thomas lives on a property on Peahi Road that abuts the Kaupakalua Reservoir, and he recalled watching the dam spill over Monday.

“Yesterday the spillway was way over capacity, and the water was going over the top of the dam, so it was cresting,” he said. “And the roar of the spillway was just incredible. That’s why I came out to look.” The grass on the downstream slope of the dam was still matted down Tuesday afternoon.

“Normally it’s pretty sleepy. The reservoir is usually dry, and it never gets to the top,” Thomas said. “Yesterday it was up, and the water was just going over, and the spillway was just growling with big trees coming through.”

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