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Isles are gradually drying up, a new assessment warns

Rising sea levels and lessening rainfall are expected to pressure the environment

By Audrey McAvoy / Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 08:49 a.m. HST, May 07, 2014

William Aila Jr. remembers seeing streams flowing with water every winter as a teenager growing up in Wai­anae.

Now the 56-year-old chairman of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources only sees water in these streams after it's rained particularly hard. He said this means his grandchildren aren't able to see oopu, a native fish that lives in streams.

"Climate change is here, and we have to deal with it," Aila said Tuesday at an event discussing the Hawaii and Pacific island portion of the latest national report on global warming. "If we don't, our children and grandchildren are going to see less and less of what Hawaii is, less and less of what Hawaii stands for and less and less of what Hawaii needs to be," Aila said.

Aila's anecdotal observations are consistent with data scientists pre­sent in the National Climate Assessment, which shows average rainfall and stream flows in Hawaii have been declining for nearly a century.

The trend is expected to continue, said University of Hawaii professor Thomas Giam­bel­luca, one of the scientists who contributed to the report, as drier parts of the state get less rain.

This will boost demand for water, as the drier parts of Hawaii are where most people live and grow crops, he said. A growing population will only add to the demand for water, he said.

The state's freshwater supply, meanwhile, will be pressured as sea levels push salt water into aquifers that store the state's drinking water. A drop in rainfall will also mean less recharging of these aquifers.

This is more of a slow-moving disaster than a dramatic storm, said Victoria Keener, a research fellow at the East-West Center who moderated a discussion on the report at the East-West Center in Hono­lulu.

The report also mentions threats to coral reefs, fisheries, coastal ecosystems and agriculture.

The Pacific tuna fishery is one industry predicted to suffer as temperatures rise.

"What the climate assessment is trying to say is that we have to start taking adaptation action now to be able to combat this so we aren't too negatively impacted by effects of sea level rise and precipitation changes and storm patterns," Keener said.

Aila said his department's push to restore forests by removing invasive weeds and keeping out pigs and other feral animals that dig up plants is one way the state is attempting to deal with the changes that are coming. Healthy forests are critical for water supplies because they soak up and store rain and cloud moisture like sponges.

Efforts to protect coral reefs, meanwhile, he said, would not only help coral and fish, but also shield harbors and coastlines from waves. The state is creating a coral nursery to conduct research on corals that might be able to withstand rising temperatures, he said.

Aila hailed a bill the Legislature passed this month giving the department funds to develop strategies for coping with erosion and changing coastlines.

He said the state needs to be ready to "run with" innovative programs.

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false wrote:
Take lessons from Singapore where they recycle the water. It's so pure they have to flavor it. Bigger problem with the aquifer being drained is the collapse of the land above as in Florida but "that wouldn't happen here" as if we are special. As for Kaakako built on a reef 5 miles thick, here comes another reef building epoch. So much for your Kaakako condo village. 100 years from now the ocean will reach King Street.
on May 7,2014 | 04:14AM
cartwright wrote:
Soil erosion by wind and floods is a problem not even the old Hawaiians have addressed. All around the Pacific we see terraced agriculture, but not here. All around the world we see row hedges and trees bordering fields and ranch lands planted to avoid winds blowing the dirt away. Not here. Prolonged drought can be mastered with prolonged, early applied efforts.
on May 7,2014 | 09:55AM
palani wrote:
William Aila Jr. remembers seeing streams flowing with water every winter as a teenager growing up in Wai­anae.

And I remember walking 2 miles to school in foot deep snow when I was child 50 years ago. Of course, I was only 3 feet tall at the time, and my stride length was much shorter, so my memory may not comport with reality.

on May 7,2014 | 06:47AM
Reade1 wrote:
Born and raised in Waiau when sugarcane fields was our backyard from Kahuku,Wailua, Wahiwa, Waipahu, Ewa, Pearl City, Waiau, Waimalu, Aiea up to Red Hill, covered with fields and irrigation ditches receiving water from manmade reservoirs from the aqua system from the Koolaus and that was only 65 years ago. Not one sugar cane field stand today on Oahu. Pineapple fields covered the plains of Kunia gone forever. The shores of Waiau we fished with homemade tin roof canoes made from scrapes and used 2 x 4 lumber to make the frame. From the banks of Waimalu stream mauka to makai into Pearl Harbor plenty resources to enjoy for free. If we wanted to eat fish, opae, oysters,etc and from the forest on the banks of the stream mangos, guava, mountain apples, and lilikoe everyday. We shared with the neighbors and shared with us. It is so sad we once were self sustainable. I watched thru my life time how developers, military and carpetbaggers destroy Hawaii Nei for "money". When the public health stop us from raising pigs for the developers to remove Waimalu valley forest for homes we watched everyday and my father said life will never be the same in Waiau. Over development and over population is killing Hawaii. "Water" the main source of life will be a major problem someday and with the evaporator distill water plants to make water for the future from the sea or brackish water will not have the natural minerals. Politicians who pass so many development projects have assisted in all the major problems we will be facing now and more to come in the very near future. I know my grandchildren will never experience to live the true Hawaii. Those who developed Hawaii has pasted on or are older now and they are the only ones who can buy their way to enjoy Hawaii of it riches. At lease there is some effort to prevent the continuous abuse of our Islands. We need to do bigger efforts like controlling development and over population on this little rock.
on May 7,2014 | 06:48AM
thos wrote:
The report also mentions threats to coral reefs, fisheries, coastal ecosystems and agriculture.

The greatest threat to coral ecosystems of these islands is the Democrat Party.

on May 7,2014 | 07:14AM
Reade1 wrote:
Also I remember when Pearl Harbor had so much fish the Sanpan fishing boats would enter Pearl Harbor to net the nehu for bait to catch the aku straight out from Pearl Harbor. Every summer the neighbor boys early in the morning would run down where Blaisdell Park is on the shore line or rail road tracks to watch the sanpan catch the nehu and dreamed one day we be doing the same. We caught so much hammerhead sharks and released them, the Hawaiian long claws purple crab by the hundreds, the haole crap sweet, 7-11 stone crab big 3lbs and the Samoan crab same. Mullet choke because all the marine life depended on Pearl Harbor coral ecosystem. Where the streams and rivers of fresh water flowed into Pearl to mix fresh and salt water became brackish and thats where in the mud flats the oysters and clams produce by the hundreds...all gone now. Because of the military build up since the early 1900 the pollution from the navy ships,shipyard and who knows what else has leaked into Pearl that wiped out the marine life. There will never be any recovery and today it still continues....for to rid the pollutant residue that is embedded will always be there for 100's of years. They have step up programs like Clean Island Council , Environmental Laws and USCG Regulations to prevent pollution and again to late its been 100 years of abuse. The natural aqua and coral ecosystem are in serious damage. Scientist can tell us all they want but we know as natives of these islands when the species of certain marine life is not around any more to complete the cycle...mother nature is telling us it is gone. I hats for those like Hi'ilei out at Kaneohe Bay to restore the marine life with volunteers. And yet the very one who destroyed the aqua and coral ecosystem have not lifted one hand to help to at lease save the system from further damage. Yes politicians thats you!
on May 7,2014 | 09:00AM
Slow wrote:
I didn't realize Norm Chow is a Democrat. It was Norm who brought the dreaded "Liberal Agenda" to Hawaii. Fortunately we have the Tea Party to lead Hawaii back to sanity. Been sending a lot of your campaign dollars to Sarah Palin? Global warming is not a liberal fantasy.
on May 8,2014 | 07:23AM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
That is so sad but beautifully written.

It really shines in comment sections usually filled with "my team is awesome, your team ruins everything" partisan nonsense. Thank you so much for taking the time to write that.

on May 7,2014 | 09:33AM
saveparadise wrote:
Some people still take the time to remember how great it was, some people take the time to let others know, some people still care about the aina, while others care not and wish only to exploit the islands for money. Thank you Reade1 as I spend a moment reading your beatifully written comment. Aloha!
on May 7,2014 | 11:25AM
AhiPoke wrote:
Sad but true. Unfortunately, living in the past will not improve our future.
on May 7,2014 | 12:31PM
A_Reader wrote:
AhiPoke, true, but there is also a wise saying, "If we don't learn from our history, we are bound to repeat it"....Does Hawaii really want to become a "Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York.." Been there and I think not.
on May 7,2014 | 12:42PM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
Mahalo Reade1 for this detailed, insightful comment.
on May 7,2014 | 02:10PM
false wrote:
Huh? Development ain't the problem with water - humans hardly use the stuff. Back in the day, it took 7 tons of water to produce 1 ton of sugar cane. 7 tons. Today, there's no sugar. So where's the water? It's flowing into the ocean. Because all the dams, all the flumes, all the infrasture is gone. Gone. No one took care of them. Then and now...
on May 7,2014 | 02:27PM
bruddahlee wrote:
Keyword here is 'overpopulation!' We all know that this island we live on has a finite living area. It is now pretty saturated. More people means less 'free' space, more stress on our infrastructure, and more pollution. Sorry, but that's the way it is. We gotta live with it, or go find another place to live. Not too many 'free spaces' left on our planet...
on May 7,2014 | 05:31PM
Slow wrote:
Sweet and sad story. I miss the Lanikai of my childhood. Of course, the watermelon farmer who cultivated the land did not like houses being built and he missed the older days. And whoever was there before watermelon man thought he ruined the place making the untouched aina into a money making farm! You refer to your grandchildren not experiencing "true Hawaii." Do you realize that by pumping out offspring, you have guaranteed the islands will be developed. Good to see you are against over-population. But you are already did your damage. Use common sense.
on May 8,2014 | 07:35AM
Reade1 wrote:
Slow, yes you are right I have four grandchildren and I have damaged Hawaii. The increase of military enlisted men, women and their families (expecting 10,0000) will not affect the damage. The increas of Micronesians will not affect the damage. The tourist will not affect the damage. Yes my four part Hawaiian grandchildren will hurt Hawaii. Next time I will use common sense. Aloha
on May 8,2014 | 08:07AM
thos wrote:
The report also mentions threats to coral reefs, fisheries, coastal ecosystems and agriculture.

The greatest threat to coral ecosystems is the Democrat Party.

In their never ending lust for campaign cash, they cozied up to golf course developers and then nimbly averted their eyes as the resultant run off poisoned the reefs and left them lifeless.
on May 7,2014 | 07:08AM
Mike174 wrote:
Give'um more money? Hmmm, bad idea. How about just stop building, eh?
on May 7,2014 | 07:18AM
Anonymous wrote:
No can stop building. The current administration like more money !! The developers flash the "kala" in front of their faces and they permit everything to happen without careful thought.
on May 7,2014 | 09:12AM
PMINZ wrote:
"Isles are gradually drying up" Ok, so just where will the H20 come from for all the New Condos?
on May 7,2014 | 10:30AM
saveparadise wrote:
Waste water treatment. We will all be drinking recycled shishi.
on May 7,2014 | 11:32AM
PMINZ wrote:
Oh - - well I am not really looking forward to that, or aren't we already doing that? guess we will need to do it faster.
on May 7,2014 | 12:57PM
MariaBetty wrote:
66,000 more homes along the H-1 condo's in town is why water will run dry. Soon it will be desalinated H2O for all in the nei.
on May 7,2014 | 11:07AM
saveparadise wrote:
Sad that these politicians prostitute themselves for the developer "kala". They are willing to sellout the aina and the people for their own gains.
on May 7,2014 | 11:32AM
PMINZ wrote:
Guess we need to put out the Water catchment bucket on the Lanai and Hoard the water
on May 7,2014 | 12:59PM
Skyler wrote:
Then why the push for towering condos that will exhaust even more natural resources? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
on May 7,2014 | 01:50PM
false wrote:
Rather than blame development, be more honest we blame ourselves - remember the last election there was an item people could vote for - it had to do with setting up a loan fund to repair dams? Voted down. People say they want local agriculture, but they won't even set up something that lends money to fix dams that fell into disrepair after sugar and pineapple left. We the people say we want all this stuff, but then we won't pay for it.
on May 7,2014 | 02:23PM
Heart wrote:
I've noticed a decline in water runoff along the Pali Highway waterfalls. Twenty or so years ago the falls there always ran, and when it rained and the wind blew, one of the falls would turn upside down. That waterfall has been almost dry for at least 10 years and only runs now when there is heavy rain, but stops almost immediately after the rain stops.
on May 7,2014 | 02:40PM
lokela wrote:
They better start thinking about the future now and build a lot of de-salination machines. Start looking towards the sea for water before we run out of water. Look at Cali. The state is running out of water and most of the that state is on the Pacific Ocean that's not being used. They also are having water wars. Sign of things to come and not just in the movies. Just saying...
on May 7,2014 | 07:02PM
SteveToo wrote:
Hate to say it William but you are wrong this time. Don't blame Climate Change for the streams drying up. Blame the two wells drilled in the early 1990's that lowered the water table and dried up the streams and springs.
on May 7,2014 | 08:46PM
lajekal wrote:
Desalination is the future. We got the Pacific Ocean as a source. We could even inject desal water into the aquifer. Can't do anything about the rainfall and dry streams. But why blame Kakaako, the condos, the population for the dry stream and less rainfall?
on May 7,2014 | 09:00PM
localguy wrote:
lokela - Should have done your research before posting. Had you done so you would have found our there are multiple d e s a l i n a t i o n plants going in to support California's water needs. One to support San Diego, Santa Barbara, Carlsbad, other areas. One source is: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/california-drought/parched-california-pours-mega-millions-desalination-tech-n28066
on May 7,2014 | 09:34PM