A University of Hawaii professor is taking on a high-altitude water study that could open thousands of acres on Mauna Kea for farming and ranching, as well as bring more fresh water to Pohakuloa Training Area and Mauna Kea State Park.
UH’s Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology proposed the hydrologic assessment and core drilling program in the Saddle region, on U.S. Army property and state land leased to the Army, to get a better understanding of where water is, and how much water is present, according to a draft environmental assessment published this week. The Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit Network, administered by the Army Corps of Engineers, is funding the research work.
The exact cost of the research was not included in the draft document. Donald Thomas, director of the university’s Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes, did not respond to phone messages Wednesday.
“Although it is more speculative, if the exploratory drilling is successful, then there is an increased likelihood that newly demonstrated water supplies could support an expansion of agricultural activities in areas of the Big Island where it is not now economically feasible; in particular, availability of a reliable source of water in the Saddle area would make it more feasible for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to lease more than 8,100 hectares (20,000 acres) of land under their jurisdiction for use in farming and ranching,” the document said.
The Army annually trucks about 11.8 million gallons of potable water to PTA, at a cost of about $1.2 million, the assessment said.
“We need to understand the extent of the resource, the source of the recharge into the system, and the residence times of the water within the aquifers underlying the Saddle region,” the document said. “The broader implications of the (study) will be to provide the residents of the island, and those who manage the groundwater resources for them, with a more accurate understanding of the overall freshwater resource systems within the island and, with that understanding, allow them to better manage how those resources are utilized or deployed.”
Jerry Kremkow, who was behind the drilling of the Waikii Ranch wells, the highest elevation wells on the island, said the study was probably a waste of money.
“Why waste millions” on a study, Kremkow said. Water “is under all of Mauna Kea.”
He found water about 3,600 feet below the surface, at about 1,200 feet above sea level. His estimate of where drillers would find water was off by just six feet, he said.
He said he understands the need to confirm theories about where water is located, however, adding that any high-altitude drilling is risky.
A 1993 drilling project found an artesian groundwater aquifer more than 1,000 feet below sea level, which contradicted scientific literature that discounted the likelihood of Hawaii Island having any artesian water, the draft document said. Another research effort, done about a mile inland from the initial borehole location, found an artesian aquifer at about the same depth.
“More striking, however, was that additional artesian freshwater aquifers were encountered at depths ranging from 2,000 m to more than 3,000 m below sea level,” the document said.
“This finding indicated that much larger volumes of freshwater were accumulated in Mauna Kea’s freshwater lens than present models would forecast.”