Kauai farmers embroiled in the battle for waterUPDATED 8:32 PM HST Feb 19, 2014Video Transcript
deadly Ka Loko Dam breach on Kauai is expected to be sentenced. But as Jimmy Pflueger's latest court date closes in -- farmers OVERSHADOWED by an AGONIZING legal display say the very water at the center of this debate -- the water that feeds their livelihood -- is in danger of disappearing. Tonight, KITV4s Lara Yamada shows us the BOILING "WATER WARS"... and the people getting BURNED. NATS: Kaloko Breach Aftermath TP 3: 22652 We've really been hurt. Perched above large swaths of Kilauea farmland... In 2006, the destructive wave of water and mud from the Ka Loko dam breach... not only scraped away land... but swept away seven lives. Nearly 8 years later ... TP 3: 23823 I grew the mangos because of the uncertainty of the water... Farmer David Whatmore says, decades ago, the promise of plentiful water -- drew him and many others to cultivate the land below the Ka Loko Reservoir. TP 3: 21850-53 I don't think people themselves would want us to stop farming out here. TP 3: 22126-30 Collectively on our system, we produce over a million dollars of produce per year. ...serving local markets and restaurants statewide -- even exporting to the mainland and Canada. But he says, ever since the dam breached, that water source has slowly diminished. And the legal battle over who controls it -- has intensified. TP 3: 22928-32 We're all scared, because we've all been bullied. In July, a judge found Ka Loko landowner Jimmy Pflueger guilty of reckless endangerment. A plea deal with state prosecutors will likely result in probation, but could include jail time. But Whatmore says, millions of dollars in legal wrangling has not stopped Pflueger's attempts to cut the water that flows to their farms. The 87-year-old former car dealer has maintained, the state is to blame for the dam breach, because it failed to upkeep the ditches feeding Ka Loko. And he says, as the years have passed, the web of gates and ditches leading to the reservoir are still in disrepair and still holding the same potential to create another catastrophe. "They're all leaving this up to Mr. Pflueger to solve a problem that really isn't of his own creation. That's not fair and ultimately if it takes a lawsuit that's what will happen." TP 3: STANDUP: 24234-48 That's Jimmy Pfluger's property sitting up there and the Kaloko Dam up above all these farmer's lands. In recent months, Jimmy Pflueger has been upping his letter campaign to the state, saying it owes him money for all of that water used now -- to the tune of a quarter-million dollars. In December, Whatmore says the state finally broke under the pressure of a possible lawsuit -- with Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair William Aila quietly ordering staff to close the gates and divert the water -- away from Kaloko -- and therefore -- away from farmers. TP 3: 20159-05 We're angry at times, but it's mainly frustrating because we don't know what the future holds. The Waiakalua Reservoir sits on Bev Harter's property: a water source that starts from high above. From Mount Namahana, to the Pu'u Ka Ele stream, to the Ka Loko Ditch -- and then its reservoir. Ka Loko -- becoming the lifeline for the Waikalua below it -- which finally feeds the farmers. Today, Harter says water levels are consistently lower -- and dangerously low during the dry summer months -- not only threatening those farmers -- but several species of endangered birds and fish. TP 3: 20103-12 The lake helps keep the water table up of course. So, we feel if the water level goes down too low even the wells around here will dry up. Aila says the state has always maintained, Plfueger never owned the water, but his illegal grading is what really led to Kaloko's breach. Still, he says, after repeated threats by Pflueger, the state DID make plans in December to the divert water -- but says -- it will only act on that, if Pflueger files a lawsuit. In a rare and recent letter to the DLNR, the Lucas Estate -- joint-owner of the Kaloko Reservoir -- says it disagrees with Pflueger -- and wants that water to flow. TP 3: 20413-17 There's so much uncertainty now. We don't know what will happen. TP 3: 22349-54 Right now, we're this little bridge point in the middle and we're the few people trying to hang it together. Whatmore says what's at stake is not only their livelihood, but that of the generations to follow ... in a place not only producing what Hawaii desperately needs... but fighting to show it's worth it. TP 3: 22407-09 We're doing this because we care. Lara Yamada KITV4 News.