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Keauhou aquifer is different from Iao, former DLNR chairman says

Updated: 
September 5, 2014 - 12:05am

Four independent scientists say they see no impact from freshwater pumping on resources within Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, a former Department of Land and Natural Resources chairman said Thursday.

Peter Young, now a consultant, served as the chairman from 2003 to 2007, the time period in which his department and its Commission on Water Resources Management was undertaking a major water resource designation project on Maui. The Keauhou aquifer, which National Park Service officials here say is threatened by increasing demands on the freshwater supply, is in a completely different situation from the one that faced Maui’s Iao aquifer.

For one, Young said during a Rotary Club of Kona meeting at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, wells were drawing more than 90 percent of the Iao aquifer’s sustainable yield, the amount of water that will be replaced by natural recharge sources. In Kona, the draw on the Keauhou aquifer is well below 50 percent of sustainable yield, a figure that was established in 1990 as 38 million gallons daily, Young said. Even by 2025, draw from the aquifer should only reach about half the sustainable yield. Add to that the U.S. Geological Survey’s revisions to how sustainable yield is calculated a few years ago, changes Young said would result in an even higher figure for sustainable yield than the 1990 figure.

“They say recharge should increase by 76 to 77 percent,” Young said. “That’s a lot.”

The Water Resource Commission split four to three late last year on whether to even entertain the petition, filed in 2013 by the National Park Service. Young said the commission must look at scientific analysis to see if water quality and quantity are being impacted by the current water uses.

A National Park Service hydrologist last week said she doesn’t yet see a negative impact on park resources, particularly those water resources at the shoreline. Park officials are especially concerned that drawing down the fresh water could change the salinity of near shore water, which could in turn have a negative effect on fish and other marine creatures.

Why, one meeting attendee asked, would the park service be interested in pursuing the designation?

“They have said, ‘We’re not sure if we’re going to intervene’” when well owners and land developers apply for the permit a water resource designation requires, Young said. “Look at history.”

In 2003, park officials submitted a paper to a conference that laid out ways to use state and local laws to “affect land use” around a park and its resources, Young said.

“They have intervened in every allowable land use action since,” he added.

The park’s hydrologist, Paula Cutillo, told about 100 people at a Kona Water Roundtable Meeting last week that officials did not feel certain that leaving half of the water “in the ground” was enough to protect resources.

Young said a growing number of state and local officials, business owners and community residents have expressed opposition to the designation. But he wanted to make one message clear at Thursday’s meeting.

“Being against the designation doesn’t mean being against the national park,” he said. “It just doesn’t appear to be the right thing to do right now.”

He offered one more big difference between the aquifer here and the one on Maui. The Valley Isle has a fully integrated water system, with multiple aquifers adjacent to each other, which allowed land owners to drill wells near the boundary of the Iao well and bring water into that region. There’s no similarly simple option here, Young said.

Park officials last week said “they would not object if the Department of Water Supply drilled a well to service Makalawena to Hokulia in the Saddle Area,” Young said, then paused as a few meeting attendees chuckled as they considered the distance of such a well from the populated areas of Kona, the depth such a well would need to be and the transmission costs, all of which he said would be prohibitive.