Long before the time of hydrologists the ancient kupuna knew the waters of West Hawaii needed to be conserved.
That was the historical context for messages delivered at an informational meeting on Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park in Kailua-Kona Thursday night — a gathering sponsored by the group that advocates for the park.
“The issue is a concern to all of us. What are we using? Is there enough?” said Fred Cachola, president of Makani Hou o Kaloko-Honokohau, a nonprofit organization that assists the park in perpetuating Native Hawaiian practices.
“It’s a community concern,” Cachola said. “It’s not just the park waving the flag.”
The National Park Service petitioned last fall to designate the Keauhou aquifer a state water management area. Thursday night’s information made clear why the park wants to pursue a move it sees as helping to safeguard the water, which it considers a biocultural resource it is mandated to protect.
The park includes three traditional fishponds built by Native Hawaiians, 598 acres of intertidal, marine and reef habitat and 185 anchialine pools as well as cultural sites and other resources. Water from the Keauhou aquifer drains through the park to the ocean.
Salinity changes and lower amounts of freshwater could impact traditional practices such as pond harvests of amaama and other nearshore fish taken for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes, according to park officials.
Current water permitting processes include showing what impact the permit would make on the resource, Superintendent Tammy Duchesne said to the group of about 75 people.
Under a state water management designation, the commission would decide if proposed uses for the water are reasonable and beneficial and do not harm the public trust resource, Duchesne said.
“Concerned parties can comment on proposed placement of wells,” she said.
Ten other water management areas fall under the auspices of the state Commission on Water Resource Management, including most of Oahu, all of Molokai and a portion of Maui, she said.
Current draw from the Keauhou aquifer is around 14 million gallons a day, according to the NPS. Sustained yield is considered to be 38 million gallons per day. But the latter number doesn’t take into account the water needed to sustain traditional and cultural practices in the park, Duchesne said.
With climate predictions calling for harsher and more frequent droughts, state management of the water is a proactive approach to balancing water protection and development, Duchesne said.
The superintendent acknowledged that the proposal has caused tension and animosity.
“It was never our intention to cause this, to divide the community,” she said.
“We took action because we felt it was necessary to fulfill the goals of the kupuna who created this park,” she said. “We have hydrologists, water quality people, and two superintendents before me who examined this. I assure you we did not enter this lightly.”
Opponents of designation say the science doesn’t support claims the water supply is being strained — or that it will be in the future. But Duchesne said the state water code does not require proof of harm before a resource is put under state control.
“Designation requires a reasonable determination that water may be harmed, looking both at current status and future trends and plans,” she wrote in a recent email to West Hawaii Today. “The NPS petition lays out our case for why we believe this test has been met, and we look forward to the Water Commission determining if we have met that burden.”