Rural O`ahu Watershed Plans Win Approval of State Water Commission

posted in: April 2011, Water | 0

In the next decade or so, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply will introduce desalinated water into its municipal supply for Wai`anae, not because the island is short of groundwater, but because it’s cheaper than drilling new wells in wetter districts and pumping the water to Wai`anae. 

Desalination is just one aspect of the Wai`anae Watershed Management Plan, adopted last month by the state Commission on Water Resource Management. At its meeting on March 16, the commission also approved a watershed plan for Ko`olauloa as part of the county’s Water Use and Development Plan (WUDP) for the island of O`ahu.

Under the state Water Code, each county must submit to the commission a WUDP as part of the Hawai`i Water Plan. 

The Honolulu BWS began updating its WUDP, starting with the rural areas of Wai`anae and Ko`olauloa, in 2004. The BWS expected to complete the plans in 2006, but because of delays, caused, in part, by the Water Commission’s failure to update its Water Resources Protection Plan until 2008, the county did not complete them until 2009. The Honolulu City Council finally adopted the Wai`anae and Ko`olauloa plans last August.

The county expects to complete its plans for the North Shore and Ko`olau Poko in 2013, and those for the South Shore in 2018.

Even without knowing what the water demands for those higher-growth areas will be, the BWS’s Barry Usagawa told the commission that desalination in Wai`anae is planned for the early 2020s. However, climate change effects on the availability of groundwater from the Pearl Harbor aquifer, the island’s largest source of drinking water, will ultimately determine when desalination will be needed, he added.

Usagawa said that while constructing a desalination plant is cheaper than drilling wells, operating it is expensive and it will need to be powered, at least in part, by renewable energy.

Melva Aila, a Wai`anae resident and wife of commission chair William Aila, testified in support of the Wai`anae plan.

Jim Anthony of the Hawai`i La`ieikawai Association, however, opposed the commission’s adoption of both plans because he said they lacked clear objectives, timelines, and funding sources. He said that the BWS does not commit to do anything in the plans and is vastly undercharging for supplying water.

With regard to the Ko`olauloa plan, Anthony argued that the handful of large, private water purveyors in the region, including the Mormon church and Kamehameha Schools, should be required to pay their fair share of watershed protection costs. He said community members raised that issue with the BWS “and they ignored us.”

Anthony, a resident of Ko`olauloa, requested a contested case hearing on the commission’s approval of the region’s plan. He noted that the Water Code calls for the county to produce one WUDP, not eight.

Commission member Donna Fay Kiyosaki, who formerly was chief engineer for the BWS, said that she agreed with much of Anthony’s arguments, especially those regarding the cost of water, but said the plans, while not perfect, headed the BWS in the right direction. In past WUDPs, the BWS was regarded as merely a water developer. In the new plans, the agency is also tasked with conservation and resource protection.


At the same time the BWS is developing plans to guide future water use on O`ahu, both the BWS and the Water Commission are trying to refine their understanding of how much groundwater will be available. Piggybacking on the BWS’s recent decision to contract the USGS to determine aquifer recharge rates in the Pearl Harbor aquifer, the commission voted last month to pay the USGS $165,000 to do the same for the rest of the island.

Before the commission’s unanimous vote, the HLA’s Anthony criticized the proposal, noting that the commission had tasked its staff with determining the Pearl Harbor aquifer’s sustainable yield some seven years ago.

“I don’t think this is fair, honest, or administratively efficient,” he said of the USGS contract, adding that the money should be put into the Pearl Harbor monitoring project that the commission had already established.

When commissioner Kiyosaki asked what happened to the initial efforts to assess the aquifer, staff informed her that the work was largely done by the agency’s survey branch, which was all but eliminated during the cutbacks of 2009.


Maui Water Update

Over the past several months, commission staff have been busy trying to implement the interim instream flow standards for East Maui and the four streams in West Maui known as Na Wai `Eha. 

According to the most recent update on their efforts, staff with the commission and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources are expected to meet this month with the East Maui Irrigation Company, Inc., to determine the diversion modifications needed to provide for biological connectivity. The state agencies will also meet with Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar and the Wailuku Water Company to determine the same for Na Wai `Eha.

It also appears that the Water Commission may be taking on responsibility for running ten U.S. Geological Survey stream gages — six in East Maui, four in Na Wai `Eha — because the USGS may not have the funding to continue their operation past June 30.

— Teresa Dawson

Volume 21, Number 9 April 2011