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Water management designation sought for aquifer


Stephens Media Hawaii

The National Park Service has been keeping an eye on the water table in West Hawaii for years.

Service officials successfully intervened in the Ooma Villages proposal, near Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, on the basis of wanting a say in how the development used water and impacted the local aquifer.

Park officials were also concerned about potential impacts from pollution on its historical fish and anchialine pools. Park Superintendent Tammy Duchesne, in a letter to Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William Aila, said the state must consider the importance of water uses other than consumption by people.

“We must act now because the fresh water that sustains North Kona’s residents and economy is threatened by growing water demand, declining rainfall, and rising sea level,” Duchesne wrote. “Large-scale groundwater pumping, injection and desalinization in the Keauhou Aquifer System are imminent. Fresh water must be preserved for unique cultural and natural resources along the Kona Coast before any more water is allocated for consumptive uses.”

Last week, Duchesne and the federal organization took a step toward getting permanent protections for the Keauhou aquifer by requesting the state’s Commission on Water Resource Management to give the area a water management designation. The aquifer runs from just north of Kona International Airport to south of Keauhou, and from the coastline to Hualalai’s summit.

“Since the park’s establishment, substantial groundwater development has occurred within the Keauhou Aquifer,” park officials said in announcing the petition. “Despite six years of efforts by the Water Commission, the park and other stakeholders to address the potential impacts of proposed development at the Kona Water Roundtable and other venues, no plan has been produced to protect water-dependent cultural and natural resources from the cumulative effects of groundwater withdrawals. Given the sensitivity and importance of these resources and importance of water to all stakeholders, including the community living in this area, proactive management of groundwater withdrawals is urgently needed.”

The goal isn’t to stop development, Duchesne said Friday.

“It just makes sure water is being used responsibly,” she said.

Much of Oahu is already marked as a water management area, she added.

“It also ensures the public trust resources are a priority and wells are placed in the best places,” Duchesne said, noting developers don’t always consider those resources when determining where to locate a well.

Applicants for projects within designated areas must show the proposed uses are “reasonable, beneficial and are consistent with the public interest,” officials said.

Some species in the park are sensitive to salinity levels, for example, in the anchialine pools, she said. Changes to the aquifer can affect those levels. The park is home to endangered species, such as the Hawaiian coot and stilt, two anchialine pool shrimp species and the orange-black Hawaiian damselfly, which are being considered as candidates for the endangered species list, as well as other species, such as limu and amaama, or mullet.

“The continued health and existence of these biological resources depend on the continued flow of clean, abundant groundwater from mauka areas within the aquifer system,” park officials said.

The now-scuttled Ooma project wasn’t the only one to catch park service officials’ attention. Park service officials posed a number of questions about the impact the recently revised TSA Kaloko Makai project, mauka of Kaloko-Honokohau, will have on the region’s water resources and coastline.

The Water Commission will review the application and decide whether to proceed with the request, Duchesne said. The process may include public hearings, which have not yet been scheduled.

Park service officials, in their petition, outlined what could happen if the aquifer does not get the management area designation.

“New wells will continue to be located near sensitive habitat for culturally important and rare native species, thereby imperiling traditional and customary Native Hawaiian rights and practices and other public trust resources that are vulnerable to changes in water supply,” the petition’s introduction said. “Waters that support fisheries, tourism, subsistence, and cultural heritage are at risk.”

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