After returning home from his work on the Wahiawa dam, which was completed in 1905, Hiram Clay Kellogg barely had time to settle back in with his family when he was requested to return to Hawaii in late June of 1906. This time the request came from the Department of Public Works for the Territory of Hawaii, which needed an outside (and therefore presumably unbiased) consultant to help resolve design and construction issues involving the Nu’uanu Dam No. 4, which was under construction amid a political firestorm.
Apparently the scope of the work was explained rather vaguely to Kellogg, who sailed to Hawaii expecting to simply resolve a dispute about the specifications involving sluicing operations. He planned to stay only the four days that his ship was in port, and agreed to a payment of $500 for his services. When he arrived, he discovered that he was to investigate the entire dam and report on its safety, an estimated two-week stay plus about 6 days writing the report as he sailed home, all for the originally contracted price! Being a man who kept his word no matter what, he dutifully set to work.
The history of the reservoirs in the Nu’uanu valley is long and convoluted. The idea of one or more irrigation reservoirs being built in the Nu’uanu valley dates back to mid-1800s. However, fear of flooding and disagreements over the need for such reservoirs kept anything from being done until 1889, when construction began on three relatively small dams. The third dam was completed in 1890.
Proposals for a much larger dam further up the valley, which had been circulating for at least ten years, were still being debated. The key to getting the project going turned out to be not irrigation and drinking water needs, but the advent of hydroelectric power. An 1890 plan for increasing electrical output, written by consulting engineer G. F. Allardt, included a fourth reservoir.
The prospect of new industries that could develop with an ample electrical supply was enough to get things going. But it still took another 15 years of political debate and public controversy before a contract for its construction was finally signed.
In stark contrast to the Wahiawa project, for which Kellogg did extensive preliminary surveys and core drillings before completing detailed engineering plans, and then personally supervised the construction, the Nu’uanu project was the sort of colossal boondoggle only a government agency can produce. Overall control of the project lay with C. S. Holloway, Superintendent of Public Works for the Territory of Hawaii, who delegated most of the practical details to his assistant J. H. Howland.
Howland hired engineer S. G. Walker to draw up the plans and specifications for the dam. When a series of problems arose during construction, it was discovered that:
- the specifications were severely lacking in detail, especially in regard to the materials to be used;
- no preliminary core drills had been done, requiring evaluating and adapting to the underlying soil and rock as construction proceeded;
- S. G. Walker, who had completed the plans and received final payment after returning to his hometown of Boston, was Howland’s brother-in-law, causing his appointment to smack of nepotism.
Clay Kellogg Enters the Scene
All of these issues were played out publicly in the local newspaper as concerns about safety, leakage, and water quality continued to mount. Finally it was decided that an outside engineering expert who would be “free from Honolulu’s peculiar methods, petty favoritisms and petty jealousies” should be called in to review the safety of the project. Clay Kellogg was selected by Superintendent Holloway and confirmed by Governor J. R. Carter. As with everything else about this project, there was significant public controversy over the choice.
Kellogg arrived aboard the S. S. Alameda on July 6, 1906. He immediately went to work, staying up till 11:45 p.m. the first night to study the plans and specifications. Over the next days he inpected the site and ordered core drill borings and other means of evaluating the underlying ground in various critical locations.
Apparently impressed with his thoroughness and/or reputation, the governor asked Kellogg to take over as supervising engineer for the project. He declined, citing pressing work back in California.
Kellogg’s long, thorough report, which he completed after leaving Hawaii, arrived on August 17, 1906. It identified a number of weaknesses in the design, materials, construction methods, and workmanship, and recommended changes to address them. His most important recommendation was to substitute rock fill for the earthen fill on the downstream wall of the dam.
Despite opposition by both Superintedent Holloway and Howland, the Governor insisted on implementing all of Kellogg’s recommendations.
Resuming work on the dam, which had been suspended during Kellogg’s investigation, was very expensive, requiring new engineering calculations, new equipment, settling of grievances, and rehiring of the laborers that had been laid off during the work stoppage.
Predictably, more public controversy ensued, and James Dix Schuyler, who had been the consulting engineer on the Wahiawa dam, was called in to inspect the construction progress, be sure it was following Kellogg’s recommendations, and assure the public that the structure was safe. Schuyler determined that the work was being done properly, but made a few recommendations of his own, requiring another round of construction revisions.
A variety of additional construction delays followed, caused by periods of flood and of drought, earth-moving difficulties similar to those encountered on the Wahiawa project, and other factors. The dam did not become fully operational until July 1, 1910, more than four years after its originally scheduled completion date. It cost taxpayers four times its original estimate.
Nu’uanu dam still stands today, although its reservoir is now used only for sport fishing. Despite all efforts to compensate for its original lack of planning, poor choice of materials, and shoddy workmanship, it has always leaked, its safety has always been questionable, and its usefulness for its original purposes has been limited.
Watch for the final installment of this series, in which Clay Kellogg finally gets a local dam project in Close to Home
All text content for this article comes from a series of articles by C. S. Papacostas that originally appeared in the Wiliki o Hawaii, the monthly engineering newsletter of the engineering societies in Hawaii. The articles spanned the period from December 2005 to December 2007. These articles are now available online at the American Society of Civil Engineers, Hawaii Section website.
Image taken from: Schuyler, James Dix. Reservoirs for Irrigation, Water-Power and Domestic Water Supply. Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1909. Digitization by Google Book Search; View this volume in various digital formats.