The state will “lead by example” in response to calls from the Honolulu Board of Water Supply for residents to save water, Gov. David Ige said Monday, amid drinking well closures and drought conditions in what is usually Hawaii’s rainy season.
Last week, BWS asked Oahu customers to voluntarily reduce their water use by 10% after the agency detected “signs of strain” on its Beretania drinking wells. The wells have taken on additional loads because the BWS shut down one of its main sources, the Halawa shaft, and two others wells as a precautionary measure after the Navy suffered a fuel contamination crisis in its water system, which uses the same aquifer.
“We’ll be looking at the state as a major water user and taking action to reduce our water usage,” Ige said in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight” program. “Certainly reducing watering, looking at conservation.”
Ige cited “scalping” efforts at Hawaii airports to collect and reuse rainwater for landscaping and other activities that don’t require drinking water. “We’re looking at how we can accelerate some of those plans,” Ige said.
The BWS detected rising levels of chloride in the Beretania wells, a key indicator of aquifer stress as it works to pump water for over 400,000 Honolulu residents once supplied by the Halawa shaft, Oahu’s largest source of fresh water, according to a BWS press release Thursday.
Well closures have been exacerbated by low levels of rainfall further hinders aquifer recharge, with the state Commission of Water Resource Management reporting “historic” drought conditions across the state.
“A significant lack of rainfall across the island has resulted in a lack of groundwater recharge and surface flow,” said CWRM deputy director Kaleo Manuel in a press release last week. “Normal wet season rainfall has not materialized and streams that are normally gushing with water are barely flowing.”
Historically parched Maui is most acutely affected by reduced rainfall. However, federal data shows 74% of the state, including all of Oahu, is experiencing moderate drought conditions during late winter when rainfall is “normally plentiful and regular,” the CWRM said.
Even if Oahu sees rainfall ramp up later in the year, the island’s aquifers need time to refill, BWS manager and chief engineer Ernest Lau said in the Thursday press release.
“We need to reduce overall island demand to protect our groundwater resources from depleting,” said Lau said. “This is necessary to ensure that Oahu’s drinking water supply remains healthy and sustainable over the long term.”
The average Hawaii resident uses 144 gallons of water every day for drinking, bathing and other purposes, according to the National Environmental Education Foundation. The BWS offered tips for reducing consumption to under 130 gallons, such as taking shorter showers and watering the lawn in the morning or evenings.
“If everyone cuts back their usage by 10 percent now, we may not have to resort to progressively restrictive mandatory conservation later in the year,” Lau said.
The state is not alone in watching faucets – much of the American West is decades into a megadrought with no end in sight, draining lakes and fueling raging wildfires.
Hawaii’s own water crisis makes protecting the environment more important than ever, Ige said.
“Sometimes it gets lost in what’s really happening … but climate change is real,” Ige said. “The weather is changing.”