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Fresh Water: From the Mountains To Your Drinking Glass

(page 8 of 8)


Livelihoods & Lives

Why protecting water is everyone's business

We all depend on water to be available to bathe, eat, cook and quench our need to drink eight recommended glasses a day. As residents, we are the big users. On Oahu, where 70 percent of the state’s population lives, residents use 62 percent (daily average of 50 gallons to 60 gallons each) of the 150 million gallons the Honolulu Board of Water Supply pumps every day.

Meet three Hawaii residents who became aware, through their work and their lives, of the need to protect and preserve our wai for ourselves and for those to come.

Photo: Marcy Hardt

Marah Hardt / Marine Biologist

“It looks like chocolate milk spilled into the ocean,” says Dr. Marah Hardt, marine biologist specializing in coral reef ecology and ocean conservation, of the muddy runoff flushing into Pelekane Bay near Kawaihae Harbor on the Big Island. The runoff is believed to come from upland erosion from denuded Kohala Mountains watershed areas.

To determine how mauka watershed restoration efforts affect makai coral reefs, the Kohala Watershed Partnership contracted Hardt to conduct an initial assessment in August 2010 of the marine environment of Pelekane Bay, a once-thriving ecosystem abundant with fish. The survey would serve as a baseline to document long-term changes — hopefully of the recovery of the bay’s coral reef community — following KWP’s erosion control and vegetation restoration project on thousands of acres of degraded watershed land above the bay.

“We’re excited about this project because we know that coral reefs along the coast are the first place to receive the influx of sedimentation from Makeahua Stream, which flash floods when it rains heavily in the Kohala Mountains,” says Hardt, who headed a research team from The Nature Conservancy, Cornell University and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Hardt says the survey was an “eye-opener.” Near-shore areas, compared with areas farther out in the ocean, were shown to have suffered the worst impacts of sedimentation damage, with greater prevalence of diseases, lower presence of all fish families and lack of small coral colonies.

“It woke me up as a marine scientist to the importance of land management,” Hardt says. “The complete Pelekane watershed project represents a truly ridge-to-reef model for resource management here in Hawaii and beyond.”

Photo: Courtesy Hamakua Springs
Country Farms

Richard Ha / Farmer
Hamakua Springs Country Farms

Island farmers such as Richard Ha know the importance of water. Ha’s 600-acre Hamakua Springs Country Farms, which grows bananas, leafy vegetables and its renowned tomatoes, relies on three springs and three streams fed by the 130-inch annual rainfall in Pepe‘ekeo on the Big Island’s Hamakua coast.

But it’s not just rainfall alone, says Ha, but “good, healthy watersheds that feed the steady streams and springs we need to grow our vegetables.” A farmer for 30 years, he knows that well-forested upland watersheds can hold rainwater and allow it to drip slowly underground to feed steadily into surface streams and underground springs that farmers depend on in the lower lands.

For the entrepreneurial Ha, food security for the island state is his goal. “Having reliable access to abundant water allows us to think big about realizing a vision to feed our community,” he says. He views water as one of his farm’s readily available resources to expand into more diversified agriculture.

“We’re on the slopes of Mauna Kea where water is naturally pulled to the ocean by gravity,” says Ha, who envisions harnessing the power of this running water as a potential sustainable source of hydroelectric energy in place of fossil fuel-based electricity to run his farm. He also sees the cost-savings possibilities of using running water, in place of electricity, to naturally oxygenate water to grow fish commercially.

“How far we can go to be food-secure and energy self-sufficient with a stable, uninterrupted and fundamental resource like water is as far as our imagination will take us,” Ha says.

Photo: Courtesy Town Restaurant

Ed Kenney / Chef
Town & Downtown@HiSAM

“When I first began my restaurants, I bought locally purely because of the quality and freshness of the ingredients,” says Chef Ed Kenney. While visiting farmers to learn more about locally grown food products, he said he learned about other issues related to Hawaii’s food system, such as land, labor, energy and water.

“Food for me is a unifying force that brings people together, connecting us to the earth and to those we eat with,” says Kenney, a leading advocate in promoting Hawaii’s food sustainability. “Like energy, water is essential to not just growing our food, but to cooking it and sharing it with others.”

He instituted water conservation policies in his restaurants — Town in Kaimuki and Downtown at the Hawaii State Art Museum — such as gray water catchment, no use of bottled water and a dishwashing system that uses recycled water to rinse.

“Working so closely with farmers, I saw the possibilities of water enabling us to feed ourselves,” Kenney says. “But fresh water is a finite resource that we are using faster than it’s replenishing itself.”

Water distribution, particularly prioritizing its distribution, can become a major issue as water becomes scarcer and less affordable to the population. Stable water production is critical through watershed protection and management, Kenney says.

“If we want to expand farming, with methods like aquaponics to grow lettuce, watercress and fish in water, we have to see the connection to the native forests up in the mountains that replenishes the aquifers to make that possible,” he says.

Photo: Air Maui

Benefits of Forest Watershed Protection

► Optimize production of Hawaii’s fresh water as its primary source
► Reduce water shortages
► Reduce soil erosion from heavy rains by anchoring soil
► Prevent stream pollution and floods through better rainwater absorption and retention
► Reduce destructive run-off sedimentation on coral reefs
► Reduce debris from swift, flooding streams on beaches
► Improve air quality by increasing oxygen production and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide
► Protect Hawaii’s unique suite of species found nowhere else in the world

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