Last month, 180,000 residents in Oroville, California, were forced to evacuate their homes due to a threat of catastrophic flooding from the potential failure of the nation’s tallest dam. The torrential rains came on the heels of years of severe drought and devastating forest fires that hardened the soil surface increasing runoff.

This dramatic episode reminds us in Hawaii about the new realities that we also face from a changing climate. Gradually rising temperatures, long-term decreases in precipitation, and a decline in beloved trade wind days are some of the more observable impacts.

And like in California, when rain does come, it tends to arrive in more severe bursts that cause storm water runoff rather than being absorbed into our island aquifers. In other words, just because it’s pouring rain outside one week, it doesn’t mean that we will have abundant water over the long term.

Hawaii needs to protect its water resources in the face of climate change. Civil Beat

As chairs of the water committees in the state House and Senate, we take our role as stewards seriously and understand that water is the lifeblood of society. Unlike California, Hawaii isn’t able to import water from other states when needed. In order to ensure our future supply of water, Hawaii must innovate and treat water like the precious resource that it is.

Last year Hawaii made great strides: establishing a water security advisory group to initiate public private projects increasing water security; passing a water audit bill that will identify and help reduce leaks in thousands of miles of Hawaii water pipelines; and setting a strong goal over the next decade to reuse water that was previously dumped as waste into our nearshore waters.

But we recognize that water policy continues to need reform and improvement, and as we pass the mid-point of the 2017 legislative session, our House and Senate continue to lead. Good water policy creates many positive impacts, not just water savings. For example:

  • House Bills 634 and 635 would provide bond financing for the Nuuanu Reservoir to be upgraded to allow for more storm water capture, greater public safety, and the potential to generate clean, green hydroelectric power.
  • House Bill 637 would help modernize our state plumbing codes so that Hawaii homes are more efficient — saving water but also lowering the cost of water bills for home owners and renters for decades to come.
  • House Bill 636 provides incentives to our local water utilities to kick-start programs that can help you save on the water bill in your home right now, even if you have an older plumbing system.
  • House Bill 1509 would require storm water management, and water reuse and reclamation planning to be incorporated in the Hawaii water resource protection plan.

Our committees have looked to leverage local efforts like the Hawaii Fresh Water Initiative, and scan the country for the latest models to protect our water sources, while also protecting our safety and pocketbooks.

As we saw in Oroville, water can be unpredictable. Changes in our climate mean greater uncertainty about when and how much water comes to our islands. But we are taking steps now to reduce our risk during the dry periods and make ourselves more resilient when natural disaster does strike.

We’re dedicated to protecting Hawaii’s water supply, but you can also do your part. Please choose water smart fixtures, use native plants in your yard, and always turn off the tap when you’re not using the water. Ola I ka Wai, water is life.

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