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Global warming will stress Hawaii’s fresh water

May 7, 2014 - 12:05am

Global warming will stress Hawaii’s fresh water

HONOLULU — William Aila 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.

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 greater demand for water, he said.

The state’s fresh water 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 giant 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.

The Associated Press