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Fresh Water: From the Mountains To Your Drinking Glass

(page 3 of 8)

Photo: Rae Huo

The Last Drop

William J. Aila Jr., chairperson of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, talks about why watershed protection matters and why it matters now.

Q: Are we losing our fresh water?

Yes. And we will continue to lose our ability to produce groundwater. We’re already experiencing the hotter, drier conditions predicted ahead. In Waianae, I’ve seen in my lifetime perennial streams drying up, dike systems built by plantations tapped out. Groundwater levels in Pearl Harbor, which supplies 60 percent of Oahu’s municipal water, have declined by half since 1910.

Q: But it rains now, sometimes enough to flood places like Kakaako in Honolulu. Why don’t we just conserve and use less water?

That is why protecting our watersheds now is a challenge. The rain you see is part of a 10-year cycle of wetter weather. We must see this is as a window of opportunity to maximize the protection and restoration of our watersheds. Conserving water use helps. But what’s ahead is unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. We have a larger and growing population, and already the demand by agriculture, residents, commercial, cultural uses, recreation are competing for the water we can produce now. 

Q: So this is about our grandchildren?

Absolutely. Ancient Hawaiians revered wai – water – because their very survival depended on it. Waiwai, the Hawaiian word for wealth, comes from water. We still live in a closed ecosystem on islands. As stewards of water today, we must ensure its sustainability for future generations.

Q: Aren’t most watersheds in remote mountain areas that we can just leave alone?

Our watersheds work best with native forests, an amazingly efficient multi-level system of capturing and collecting rain. On Lanai, captured fog water supplies even more water than direct rainfall. We have over 2 million acres of forests that supply almost all of the millions of gallons of fresh water we currently need. But half of our forests have already been lost to invasive species and other threats.

Q: Can’t we just replenish our underground reservoirs by desalinizing ocean water, which is plentiful in Hawaii?

Desalination plants costs millions to build and operate, and will dramatically increase the price of water for consumers. Restoring our watershed forests requires a much smaller investment and provides superior long term economic value. We pay to have water delivered to our homes and businesses. Are we willing to invest in watershed protection — the production side of our water?

Q: Are you optimistic?

We will be pono for water, because we are seeing more decision-makers who understand ecosystem management. We have a reciprocal relationship with our watershed forests. They depend on us to help them thrive; we depend on the forests to give us water to survive.

Threats to Hawaii’s Watersheds

► Invasive hoofed animals (feral pigs, goats, deer, etc.)
► Invasive non-native weeds (strawberry guava, Miconia, Australian tree fern, etc.)
► Fires
► Predators (rats, insects, slugs, etc.)
► Plant diseases

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