A lot of research has been released over the years about the impacts of climate change on Hawai`i. Scientists have found a drastic increase the number of “fire weather” days over the past several decades. They’ve predicted a rise in the number and severity of coral bleaching events, as well as contraction of habitat where native forest birds can take refuge from avian malaria. The list goes on.
But “the big one”that spurred the Hawai`i Community Foundation to step outside its normal role of providing students with scholarships and grants to non-profits, and into the role of shaping water policy, was a finding two years ago that annual rainfall had plummeted precipitously between 1980 and 2010, according to Josh Stanbro, director of the foundation’s environment and sustainability program.
Aquifers provide the majority —and, on O`ahu, the vast majority —of the water used in the state, some 450 million gallons a day. That’s equivalent to about nine supertankers, Stanbro told the state Commission on Water Resource Management at a briefing last month on the HCF’s new blueprint for freshwater security.
The growing body of research suggesting freshwater will become scarcer and/or harder to capture in the decades to come as a result of climate change, “coupled with demands from an ever-increasing population, and new threats to existing sources of water (sea level rise and contamination at areas such as Red Hill), indicate that Hawai`i is entering an era of increasing uncertainty regarding our long-term water security,”the HCF’s “Blueprint for Hawai`i’s Water Future”states.
So in 2013, the HCF assembled a council of 18 individuals from both public and private sectors and charged them with devising a plan to mitigate those impacts. The Fresh Water Council, as it’s called, includes scientists; members of the farming, ranching, natural resource protection, and native Hawaiian communities; former and current heads of the Department of Land and Natural Resources; representatives of county water supply departments; a law professor with expertise in native Hawaiian and water issues; and a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The council met throughout 2014, doing site visits, reviewing research, hearing presentations by water experts and drafting recommendations on a water security plan. Earlier this year, it adopted the final blueprint, which, according to the HCF, is intended to guide its own investments and actions in addition to giving policy- and decision-makers solutions “that have broad, multi-sector support in the fresh water community and [which] should be adopted in the near term.”
“The non-profit sector has not been as helpful as we could. We’re trying to bring our resources to bear,”Stanbro said.
The blueprint’s main goal is to provide an additional 100 mgd of freshwater availability by 2030. Forty mgd would come from increased efficiency that would reduce total daily aquifer use by eight percent; 30 mgd would come from increased recharge resulting from improved storm water capture and a doubling of protected watershed areas; and the last 30 mgd would come from vastly increasing the use of treated wastewater while reducing the amount of wastewater discharged into the ocean. (According to a study commissioned last year by HCF, 141 mgd of wastewater was treated in Hawai`i, 85 percent of which was discharged directly into the ocean.)
Stanbro noted that the state Legislature this year passed bills addressing some of the areas targeted by the blueprint. He pointed to Act 42, which allows counties to establish user fees that would help pay for stormwater management. And Act 229 appropriated $8.6 million for the state Department of Transportation’s Airports Division “to conduct a feasibility study on the use of water scalping technology in state airport facilities and, if funds are available, develop a process design for the processing portion of the implementation of water scalping technology.”(Water scalping is the process of extracting usable water from sewage.)
The council has explored the possibility of establishing of a secure source of funds to maintain and improve fresh water security. It conducted a poll of Hawai`i residents to assess the kinds of water security measures (i.e., watershed protection) for which they would be willing to pay a nominal fee of $1 or $5 a month.
The results were so encouraging that the council is including a pilot “water security and innovation fund”in its 2016 proposed policy actions.
The fund, which would be administered or contracted by the DLNR or the state Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, “should be seeded with a minimum general fund appropriation of $5 million and matched by a minimum of $1 million in non-state funds,”the blueprint states. An advisory group, similar to the state’s Legacy Land Conservation Fund, would be established to manage distribution of grants from the water security fund.
The blueprint includes several other measures that the council recommends the state adopt or implement by 2018 (see sidebar). Stanbro noted that the Water Commission itself, as well as its staff, contributed greatly to the blueprint, “teaching us and providing information to us [so we can] dovetail with the priorities of our partners.”
Water Commissioner Jonathan Starr, for one, was grateful for the HCF’s efforts.
“When I first saw you present this a couple months ago, I was really happy. I never saw anything like this coming from the non-profit sector,” he told Stanbro.
Safety Concerns Drive Decision
To Bar Public from Kaua`i Site Visit
After consulting with state attorneys, Water Commission staff decided that only commission members and representatives of Earthjustice, the Agribusiness Development Corporation, and the Kekaha Agriculture Association may attend the limited site visit of the Koke`e and Kekaha irrigation systems planned for October 20 and 21.
At a commission meeting in August, questions were raised about whether members of the public or others not directly involved in the waste complaint and petition to amend interim instream flow standards filed in 2013 by Earthjustice could join the site visit if they provided their own transportation.
A deputy attorney general representing the ADC objected to the attendance of anyone not a party to the case and suggested that should others be allowed, they provide the agency with indemnity and assurances of their fitness to participate. By all accounts, some of the stops on the site visit are difficult to reach.
At the commission’s meeting last month, staffer Dean Uyeno confirmed that the site visit would be limited to the Water Commission, the petitioner (Earthjustice on behalf of Po`ai Wai Ola) and the responders (KAA and ADC).
Uyeno also noted that the KAA’s Landis Ignacio recently reported that the parts of the irrigation system and roads have been damaged by rain. As a result, some sites will be removed from the site visit agenda.
“I’d like to remind you this is to educate you about the system. Some areas are gated off. We’re going to have to cross streams. …There are portions of roads where it’s hard to turn around,”he told the commission.
The decision to exclude the public was purely in the interested of public health and safety, he said.
“I understand that, but I don’t really love it,”said Water Commissioner Jonathan Starr.
— Teresa Dawson
Volume 26, Number 4 October 2015