Water is life. It is the blood for our aina.  

Water not only is required to sustain life. It also can be a threat to life, as we have witnessed in the extreme flooding of West Virginia and Texas, as well as the severe drought in California. A recent United Nations report on water and disaster risk recounts that 90 percent of U.S. natural disasters over the past decade have been water related, including floods, droughts and storm surges.

Water-related disasters arise from too much water, too little water or polluted water. The frequency of these water-related disasters is expected to increase with a changing climate, with the U.N. predicting that these disasters also will become more severe in the near future. Hawaii’s water is a precious resource that we cannot take for granted.

Heavy rains caused the River Wansbeck to flood the town of Morpeth, England in September 2008.
Heavy rains caused the River Wansbeck to flood the town of Morpeth, England in September 2008. Flickr.com/Johndal

As the Earth’s temperature continues to rise, we can expect a significant impact on our fresh water supplies with the potential for devastating effects on these resources. If we continue to increase our water consumption, to allow sewage spills to pollute our streams and ocean and don’t reclaim our water, we will face a serious water crisis in Hawaii’s future. The effects on our ahupuaa and natural systems will be widespread: from accelerated flooding, heavier rain and flash floods, to extreme droughts and saltwater intrusion in our aquifers.  

To recognize this reality and to respond accordingly is a goal for our Legislature. Managing water resources using an integrated approach is critical to mitigate social, economic and environmental impacts.

As residents of an island state, we must recognize that our families likewise will be affected by these severe water risks in our future. This is why, as the chairman of the House Water and Land Committee, I emphasized a diverse package of water policies as a priority for this year. During this year’s legislative session, our Legislature passed 14 bills related to improving our state’s water policies and goals.  

We are committed to improving our state’s water supply, ensuring that clean, unpolluted water nourishes our families and supports a vital, sustainable food supply.

Behind two Ohia blossoms, Waianuenue Falls drops 80 feet, in Wailuku River State Park, on the Big Island
Behind two Ohia blossoms, Waianuenue Falls drops 80 feet, in Wailuku River State Park, on the Big Island. Nate Yuen, HawaiianForest.com

We passed legislation to upgrade our essential water infrastructure through public-private partnerships and green bonds as an investment for Hawaii’s future water security (HB 2029 and HB 2040). We authorized the sale of special purpose revenue bonds to fund loans, through private investments, to improve the safety of dams and reservoirs throughout the State (HB 2059, HB 2198, HB 2680 and HB 2681). We are restoring our islands’ irrigation systems and are financing research throughout our islands to monitor our ahupuaa’s stream flows (SB 2217, SB 2788 and HB 1700).

We are auditing our water resources throughout the state to ensure that we have precise data to manage our future water use (SB 2645). We are integrating the use of our water as a clean energy resource to expand the future use of hydroelectric power (HB 2077). Finally, we are encouraging the use of clean, recycled water throughout our state facilities by 2045 and we are advancing the treatment of our wastewater by prohibiting the pollution of our ocean and state waters in the next ten years (HB 1749, and HB 2030).  

I am grateful to my colleagues in the Legislature for the collaborative efforts in passing this diverse 14-bill water package, a first of its kind for Hawaii. These bills are the direct result of many hands providing input, ranging from our professional state employees providing the necessary research to the non-profits advocating for progress. We are currently witnessing the severity of water risks and water disasters affecting our country and we must acknowledge that Hawaii will also be vulnerable to climate change in the near future.

This comprehensive legislative water package is our first step toward ensuring our state’s water security and water safety through water reuse, conservation and infrastructure advancements.

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