Water In Hawaii

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Fresh water is the most basic cornerstone of civilization. In Hawaii, rain in the mountains has carved rivers over millions of years, and those pathways carry fresh water to the sea. And while an abundance of water is one of Hawaii’s many blessings, the disparity between some of the wettest places and some of the driest has made the management of fresh water resources critical. Systems to divert, store and deliver that water have allowed for the proliferation of crops like pineapple and sugar and for development into areas far from natural streams.

Though Hawaii is surrounded by the expansive Pacific Ocean, life on the islands requires not only salt water but fresh water supplied to the land by falling rain. Rainfall totals vary wildly depending on location.

Between 25 and 30 inches of rain fall per year on the ocean near Hawaii, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But the islands receive as little as one-third of that in some places and as much as 15 times that much elsewhere because moisture brought by trade winds condenses and falls when clouds hit mountains and rise. Mount Waialeale in the center of Kauai is among the wettest places on earth with average annual rainfall of more than 400 inches.

After rain falls, some of it is channeled into mountain streams that eventually feed rivers that meet the sea. The rest is absorbed into the ground, with some of it finding its way to aquifers where it is stored as ground water, accessible only through pumping wells. As the water flows down from the mountains, it is used by animals and plants for their survival.

Because some areas are generally more arid due to rain shadows or other natural phenomenon, humans have devised systems to distribute water far and wide. Many of the technological breakthroughs, such as complex diversion systems, were made to make farming financially successful for export crops like pineapple and sugar. Use of the ditch systems is managed today by the Commission on Water Resource Management.


For centuries after their arrival from Polynesia, Native Hawaiians divided the land into ahupuaa — subdivisions running from the ocean to the mountains, roughly defined by their watersheds. Fresh water flowed through taro patches, where it supported the Hawaiians’ staple crop. It eventually reached the sea, where it enriched fishponds and reefs, which in turn support life in the ocean.

Even after Western contact, the definition of water as a public resource was included in some of the first written laws in Hawaii. From the first constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1840 to Chapter 11 of the Hawaii State Constitution to the Water Code — Chapter 174C of the Hawaii Revised Statutes — in the late 1980s, water has been held for the citizens. This idea is in stark contrast to the concept of water as a private property right.

The Water Code established the State of Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management, which falls under the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and is tasked with the protection and enhancement of the state’s water resources through “wise and responsible management.” It accomplishes this by administering the Hawaii Water Plan and Hawaii Administrative Rules and regulating the use of water by, among other things, determining how much water can be diverted from streams for private uses.

Water In Hawaii

July 2017

Monday, July 10

Bret Yager: Well Failures Leave Hawaii County Facing Water Cutbacks

June 2017

Wednesday, June 28

Big Island Dairy Sued Over Water Pollution Concerns

April 2017

Tuesday, April 18

Deal Reached In Dispute Over Waimea River Water Diversion

November 2016

Monday, November 14

Beware Of Big Brown Globs In The Waters Off Hawaii Beaches

July 2016

Wednesday, July 27

EPA Directs Hawaii To Warn Public About Polluted Beaches

Monday, July 25

State Sued Over Kauai Pesticides

April 2016

Tuesday, April 5

Maui’s Ancient Water Rights Debate Headed For Capitol Showdown

April 2015

Tuesday, April 21

Just Say No to Balfour for Water Commission

September 2014

Wednesday, September 10

Hawaii DOT Fined $1.2 Million for Stormwater Violations at 2 Harbors

September 2012

Saturday, September 22

Hawaii Fluoride Debate Idle Despite Major Policy Shifts On Mainland

Wednesday, September 5

Would Kaimana Beach Disappear With the Waikiki Natatorium?

August 2012

Friday, August 24

NOAA Program: Kill The Sharks To Save The Baby Monk Seals

July 2012

Wednesday, July 11

Health Dept: Dozens of Hawaii Beaches Not Tested for Contamination

Tuesday, July 10

Sperm Banks For Coral? One Scientist’s Unusual Plan To Save The Species

June 2012

Friday, June 15

Waikiki, Say Aloha to Jellyfish

Wednesday, June 13

Hawaii Only State Not Regulating Pesticides Under Clean Water Act

May 2012

Wednesday, May 9

Is Honolulu Drowning In Sea Of Leaking Money?

‘Pipe Whisperers’ Hear The Rustle Of Running Water

April 2012

Wednesday, April 18

Water Commission Nominees Confirmed Amid Growing Outcry

Saturday, April 7

Secrecy Shrouds Selection of Water Commissioners

Thursday, April 5

Doubting State, Honolulu Moves To Add Bag Fee

Wednesday, April 4

Mayor Won’t Cancel Sewage Treatment Contract

Governor’s Water Commission Choices Are Once Again Under Fire

March 2012

Thursday, March 29

Raw Sewage Still Flowing Into Local Waterways Despite Legal Agreement

Monday, March 19

Despite Sewer Work, Storms Still Cause Spills

Water Board’s Beretania Land To Be Developed

Monday, March 5

Carlisle: Honolulu Sewer Deal Has No New Concerns

February 2012

Thursday, February 23

Abercrombie’s Latest Water Commission Nominees Don’t Quiet Uproar

Wednesday, February 22

Stop In the Name Of the Endangered Species Law: Put That Sea Turtle Back

Tuesday, February 14

New Hawaii Water Commissioner Withdraws Amid Controversy

January 2012

Wednesday, January 11

Honolulu Facing Five Major Issues In 2012

Thursday, January 5

Will Hoopili Push Honolulu to Desalinate Ocean Water?

December 2011

Thursday, December 29

Honolulu Council May Try To Take Over Water Board

September 2011

Tuesday, September 27

Hawaii’s Corals Could be Listed as Endangered Species

Tuesday, September 13

State Lawmakers Threaten to Fight Proposed Monk Seal Protections

August 2011

Tuesday, August 30

Cleanup Cost Landfill Company at Least $2.2M

Friday, August 12

Fishermen Oppose Extra Protections for Hawaiian Monk Seals

Wednesday, August 10

Hawaii Dumps 1,000s of Gallons of Water into Maxed-Out Sewage System

Tuesday, August 2

Low Turnout for Honolulu Sewage Sludge Meeting

July 2011

Saturday, July 23

Even With Rate Increases, Honolulu Water Cheap

Thursday, July 21

From May to July, Carlisle Changed Tune on Sludge

Sewage Sludge Heading Ewa Only, for Now

Thursday, July 14

Budget Battle Left Few Sewage Sludge Options

April 2011

Tuesday, April 12

Trash Covers Hawaii Beach, and More’s Coming

Friday, April 8

Board of Water Supply Says Honolulu Has Fewer Water Main Breaks Than Average

Wednesday, April 6

Hawaii Silence On Landfill Inspections Speaks Loudly

Tuesday, April 5

Governments File Open Records Requests, Too

New Details Emerge About Landfill Spill Response

February 2011

Wednesday, February 9

Big Wave Waterskiing? Chuck Patterson at Jaws

Tuesday, February 8

U.S. First in Shark Attacks. Where Does Hawaii Stand?

January 2011

Friday, January 28

Stormwater Released Into Ocean to Avoid Larger Landfill Catastrophe

Wednesday, January 26

Honolulu Tests Water at 11 Sites for Carcinogen

Saturday, January 22

Looking for Cracks in East Maui’s Ditch System

Friday, January 14

Once Adversaries, Aila and Army Now Teaming Up

Thursday, January 6

State Health Officials: Drink Up, the Water is Fine

December 2010

Friday, December 24

Testing the Waters Off Magic Island — After the Storm

Thursday, December 23

State Water Official: Chromium Six Test “Irresponsible”

Monday, December 20

Study Finds Probable Carcinogen in Honolulu Tap Water

October 2010

Thursday, October 28

A Night on ‘The Value of Hawaii’ – Energy and Water

Saturday, October 23

Join Us to Talk Energy and Water

September 2010

Sunday, September 26

The Value of Hawaii: Water by D. Kapuaala Sproat

August 2010

Saturday, August 7

Who Conserves Most Water? Neil, Duke Used More In Last 2 Months Than Mufi Did In Last 2 Years

June 2010

Wednesday, June 16

Waihee Watershed Project Could Help Climbing Fish

Friday, June 11

UPDATE: Less Water Than Expected Put Back In West Maui Streams

Friday, June 4

Chris Benjamin Interview: The Full Transcript

HC&S Manager: No Plans To Develop Sugar Lands

Discussion: Water Rights

May 2010

Thursday, May 27

What Rules Maui Water, Law or Sugar?