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Watershed protection is vital


Spending millions of taxpayer dollars to replenish Hawaii's vegetation and native forests may seem extravagant except for the alternative: public consumption reliant on declining sources for absorbing rainwater and replenishing groundwater. The alternative would be to take the salt out of ocean water at enormous expense, which is why Gov. Neil Abercrombie is asking legislators to save the forests. The response should not be delayed.

Half of Hawaii's forests have been lost, as feral pigs and goats worsened the situation by eating vegetation, allowing alien plants to consume more water and increase runoff, according to a study by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Climate change has added to the problem: Statewide winter rainfall has been 12 percent lower in the past 20 years than previously.

"Temperatures are steadily rising while cloud cover lessens," explains University of Hawaii geography professor Tom Giambelluca, "meaning more water is evaporating."

He pointed out that forests play an important role in intercepting water from clouds and reducing direct runoff.

Groundwater levels around Pearl Harbor, which supplies 60 percent of Oahu's water, have dropped by half since 1990.

"Without vegetation and forest cover," the study points out, "most of our islands' rainfall would quickly run off unused into the ocean.

Instead, the forest buffers the impact of heavy rains. Rainfall collects on the leaves, branches and understory, allowing it to drop slowly into the ground."

From there, the water is tapped by wells and tunnels to supply nearly all of Hawaii's drinking water.

About $11 million per year in the decade ahead would be the cost to double the amount of protected watershed, partly by fencing off areas from invasive animals and replanting native species. The report makes a solid argument for accepting the cost, as only 10 percent of the state's priority watershed areas is now protected. Abercrombie says he hopes to double that percentage in a decade.

The reduction of native forests has caused extensive water loss across landscapes. The alternative cost of a desalination plant to provide 5 million gallons a day projected for Oahu's Ewa district would be $40 million to build and more than $5.4 million a year to operate, according to the DLNR study. Obviously, that should not be regarded as an alternative.

Abercrombie expects legislative approval on this issue, pointing out in a news release that Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, chairman of the Senate Water, Land and Housing Committee, has said it "makes economic sense for agriculture, environment and our future drinking source."

While doubters may question the effectiveness of Abercrombie's proposal and the expenditure, especially in tough fiscal times, the proactive attempt is worthwhile. The importance of watersheds cannot be ignored, and the availability of precious water cannot be taken for granted.

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manakuke wrote:
Like the name says watersheds are a vital part of an islands water resources. The water cycle is a necessary part of modern Hawaiian life.
on November 9,2011 | 03:31AM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
Try explain that to mainland (and local) developers. For years they've been trying to develop the remaining watershed lands like those in East Honolulu to make a quick buck. Meanwhile the population grows as water levels drop. The choo choo is not going to help curb population growth either..
on November 9,2011 | 08:43PM
HJT wrote:
While I agree with the idea of expanding protection of watershed areas I question using the numbers provided as "proof". $11 million over 10 years is $110 million. $40 million for construction of desalination plant plus $5.4 million per year to operate = $94 million over the same 10 year period. Like I said, the concept is sound but this part of the defense is weak (IMHO).
on November 9,2011 | 06:53AM
OldDiver wrote:
Is that $94 million going to provide water for the entire island? You also forget desalination plants use huge amounts of electricity. We already export $6 to $8 billion dollars a year to buy oil. $110 million dollars is pocket change compared to building a desalination plant.
on November 9,2011 | 08:20AM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
That's when a politician is going to make a case to put a nuclear power plant on the island.
on November 9,2011 | 08:44PM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
That's when a politician is going to make a case to put a nuclear power plant on the island.
on November 9,2011 | 08:44PM
ahonui wrote:
yes, but after 10 years of restoration, the watersheds will be sustainable and will continue to provide adequate supplies of higher quality water while a desalination plant would continue to require operating and higher and higher maintenance costs as the equipment ages and deteriorates. Over the long haul it will be much less expensive to establish a sustainable watershed.
on November 10,2011 | 11:01AM
gsr wrote:
Perhaps cleaning up the sewage outfall from Lake Wilson into Kaukonahua stream would help that watershed.
on November 9,2011 | 07:03AM
CloudForest wrote:
The inability of the state to manage any land anywhere is a proven fact. This is giving the wrong people the money and should be instead used to allow private industry to best control the non-indigenous species and to harvest, scarify and regenerate the forest as best as possible using best management practices and modern forestry techniques. This might even provide jobs and income to many more people and create the desired watershed protection so dearly needed. Save a forest, eat a politician.
on November 9,2011 | 07:42AM
OldDiver wrote:
Letting private interest manage the land is already happening in the north west. Of course the results are the same as with any resource that involves profit. The land is being raped and the resulting destruction of the forrest must be fix using taxpayers money. Pretty much the same story as with the Wall Street Investment Bankers.
on November 9,2011 | 08:24AM
AhiPoke wrote:
While I tend to agree with the concept of protecting the watersheds, I have no faith in our legislature and bureaucrats to handle this issue effectively. This will be one more opportunity to "park" former legislators or loyal public employees in new positions to improve their "high three" regardless of their qualifications for the job. The net effect will be incompetent individuals wasting money and/or directing it to party loyalists. That's the history of our state and there's no reason to believe it'll change anytime soon.
on November 9,2011 | 07:52AM
wiliki wrote:
Great editorial. It's unusual that the SA can figure out something like this. It seems like they usually try to "average" the opinions that they report on.
on November 9,2011 | 08:12AM
SmedleyFerndock wrote:
"Groundwater levels around Pearl Harbor, which supplies 60 percent of Oahu's water, have dropped by half since 1990" Yet continued approval of sprawling development in Ewa, a quasi-desert, continue unabated. The outcome will be damage to the Pearl Harbor aquifer. The only question will be, can the damage to the aquifer be reversed or will Oahu become totally dependent upon desalinization. The cost of curtailing development is Zero dollars initial outlay and Zero dollars in each subsequent year.
on November 9,2011 | 08:38AM
Anonymous wrote:
"Comment has been sent for approval" ---------------------------------------------------------WHY?---------------------------------------------------------
on November 9,2011 | 08:39AM
SmedleyFerndock wrote:
Replace Anonymous with SmedleyFerndock. Commnet above submitted by me went to the censor. I again ask WHY!
on November 9,2011 | 11:20AM
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