- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 28, 2018

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) - Maui farmers of the tropical plant taro have been working to restore an ancient canal that was damaged in recent storms.

More than 100 people showed up Sunday to help the Waihee community remove debris and rebuild the ditch system, the Maui News reported .

Miki’ala Pua’a-Freitas, co-owner and founder of Kapuna Farms, said the area supports at least 15 families cultivating about 20 acres of taro.

The ditch system is about 1 mile long and is fed by the Waihee River. The river overflowed during a storm on Feb. 18, breaking a stone dam and washing away parts of the canal and its irrigation system.

Tiare Lawrence, one of the community members organizing the cleanup, said the issue has been intensified by the invasive java plum tree.

“During heavy rains, they have shallow root systems, so they fall and they create these massive dams,” Lawrence said. “And when they break, the water tends to flood over the stream banks. So that happened in Waihee last week.”

Pua’a-Freitas said the river has widened, but is still flowing toward the head of the canal.

Workers on Sunday were “not moving the river or changing the river, just repairing the walls that were damaged,” Pua’a-Freitas said.

“For me, it’s not just about the quick fix,” Pua’a-Freitas said. “It’s about doing it properly and really looking at the long term. … We all want water back in our lo’i kalo, but we just know it’s going to be a long road.”

Hokuao Pellegrino, president of the Hui o Na Wai ‘Eha, said his conservative estimate is that the canal has been around at least 400 years.

The traditional irrigation system fed all of the kuleana taro farmers on the north side of Waihee River, the largest of “the four great waters” flowing from the West Maui Mountains.

Pellegrino said he didn’t think it was possible for the canal to be damaged in such a manner.


Information from: The Maui News, http://www.mauinews.com

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