Ala Wai flooding fears prompt cash prize for new solutions

Local News

State and military officials are working to prevent a catastrophic flooding that could cause hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage.

They’ve been developing plans to improve the Ala Wai Canal and the multiple streams that empty into it.

Officials say the canal is essential to protecting Waikiki and surrounding neighborhoods from flooding. But if there’s a major storm, officials say the worst case scenario is that the canal could overflow and wipe out neighborhoods.

Governor David Ige acknowledges there’s plenty of work to do on the Ala Wai Canal and watershed.

“We’ve always felt underwhelmed by the proposals because it’s usually the traditional how do you get water to flow from the mountains without flooding every place,” Ige said.

The Ala Wai Canal has seen its share of problems, with floods overtaking the canal twice in the 60s and also in 1992.

Estimates say that a 100-year flood event could cost the state more than $300 million in damages alone.

Not only that, it’s also one of the most polluted waterways in the state. The governor says updating it is essential.

“It is fundamentally important we have looked at what the impact would be for that once in 100 years event and it would be devastating,” Ige said.

Over the years, the Army Corps of Engineers has tried to tackle the project with proposals ranging from increasing the height of the concrete walls along the canal, to dredging the canal more often.

On Monday, UH president David Lassner introduced a new initiative aimed at bringing new ideas into the conversation about the Ala Wai.

“This is the most densely populated watershed in the state of Hawaii with literally tens of thousands of homes and businesses and residents so it’s got to protect it including Waikiki which is our economic bread basket,” Lassner said.

Lassner is challenging students to come up with innovative ways to keep residents and businesses safe from a 100 year flood and at the same time restore it to a more environmentally friendly waterway.

“I was trying to figure out how would we approach making the Ala Wai awesome of visitor attraction something people would swim in on purpose,” Lassner explained.

Students like Jessica Sevilla say there’s plenty of potential for great ideas to be brought forward, “That’s the great thing. It’s kind of like they come up with something crazy, like let’s not think about limitations. Let’s think about, come up with your greatest ideas and will kind of go from there.”

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