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Environmental advocates concerned about West Kauaʻi hydropower project

Kauai Island Utility Cooperative

The Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative wants to reopen two of the island’s hydropower plant facilities without an environmental impact statement — and certain members of the West Kauaʻi community are concerned.

The project would divert water from Waimea River over the course of a 65-year lease. The two hydropower plants were in effect during Kauaʻi's plantation era, but have been abandoned for the last 20 years.

Two plants will use four billion gallons of water annually, said Marti Townsend with Earthjustice, a national public interest nonprofit. She said used water will be dumped in Mānā Plains, which would eventually runoff into nearshore waters.

Although the hydro plants could be a source of renewable energy for Kauaʻi, Townsend said the current plan ignores 'too many community concerns.'

"There are all kinds of implications from diverting such a significant amount of water from Waimea, especially for the taro farming families that live downstream from hydro plants. They're just not respecting that, basically," she said.

She added that there could be significant impacts to native stream life. "Because they're choosing to compare their project to what sugar diverted, they are presenting a story that's incomplete and makes it look like [they] are not having an impact on these native species that need water to survive," said Townsend.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources said the project will have no significant impact on Waimea River.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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