Commissioners tour coastal sites while considering aquifer request

More than a year after National Park Service officials filed their petition for a water management area designation for the Keauhou aquifer, they finally made their pitch directly to the state commissioners who will decide the request.

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More than a year after National Park Service officials filed their petition for a water management area designation for the Keauhou aquifer, they finally made their pitch directly to the state commissioners who will decide the request.

Members of the state’s Commission on Water Resource Management toured several West Hawaii sites on Wednesday, including Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, which sits at the northern end of the aquifer, the subsurface water source that feeds wells from Makalawena to Kealakekua. Park Superintendent Tammy Duchesne said officials were unable to make a presentation last year, when the petition first went to the commission, because the meeting happened when federal employees were under a nationwide shutdown.

Prior to their formal presentation Wednesday afternoon, park employees joined Hawaiians who were involved in the creation of Kaloko-Honokohau park four decades ago to talk about the park’s importance, culturally and environmentally.

The park doesn’t have famous geysers, like Yellowstone National Park, or a famous peak such as Half Dome at Yosemite National Park, said Fred Cachola, who presented the 1974 report to Congress justifying the push to create Kaloko-Honokohau. But it does have fishponds, and something else.

“There’s no big monuments,” Cachola said, while commission members stood in a lava field and peered into a fissure through which freshwater flowed. “But what is here is the remnant of kupuna … who through industry and ingenuity made this environment thrive.”

One thing in particular helped those Hawaiians as they worked in the lava fields, anchialine pools and fishponds, Cachola added.

“The spirit of this place would be dead and devastated and destroyed without flowing water,” he said.

Up the trail, NPS ecologist Sallie Beavers talked about the two species that live in the anchialine pools that are candidates to be named endangered species. One of them, the orangeblack Hawaiian damselfly, used to be the most common damselfly in the state. It’s now gone from Kauai, and disappearing from Maui and Oahu, she said, threatened, in part, by “changes to water use.”

NPS officials have said designating the land fed by the Keauhou aquifer a water management area is necessary to protect those species, as well as other environmental and cultural resources within the park. They argue the designation will prevent too much freshwater from being drawn from the aquifer. The amount of freshwater removed from the aquifer could alter the salinity levels of water at the coastline, officials have said.

Opponents of the plan, including some county officials and representatives of development and construction companies that are building or intend to construct projects within the proposed designation area, have argued the designation will harm the economy and make it exceedingly difficult to proceed with development, even development for which all of the entitlements, including water permits, have already been granted.

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The commission is set to return to West Hawaii next month for another round of site visits. The commission is tentatively scheduled to make a decision about whether to continue the designation process on Dec. 10. Deciding to move forward at that meeting doesn’t necessarily mean the commission will grant the petition, but does call for more investigation and scientific findings.

Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William Aila is a voting member of the commission, which falls under DLNR’s jurisdiction. He said his term as chairman doesn’t expire until Dec. 31, so he should likely still be in office when the commission meets Dec. 10.

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