National Park: Science backs aquifer petition

The National Park Service on Thursday pressed its case that the agency does indeed have the science to back its petition to designate the Keauhou aquifer a state water management area.

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The National Park Service on Thursday pressed its case that the agency does indeed have the science to back its petition to designate the Keauhou aquifer a state water management area.

Officials with Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park presented a number of studies showing potential harm to the park if groundwater levels are decreased.

Species of shrimp and damselfly that are candidates for listing as endangered require the proper mix of salt and fresh water, and a 2010 University of Hawaii study found that no damselfly larvae survive when the water becomes too salty, said Jeff Zimpfer, an environmental protection specialist with the park.

Endangered waterbirds in the park also require an influx of fresh water and their recovery can be compromised if the balance is upset, according to scientific findings. Additionally, a Hawaii Department of Aquatic Resources study from this year found such fish species as the mullet also require a balance of fresh and salt water, and a University of Hawaii study found decreased groundwater could encourage buildup of algae that could smother coral reefs.

“This isn’t the National Park Service’s opinion, these are studies that back up our petition,” Zimpfer said.

The remarks came at a ReefTalk at the park sponsored by the University of Hawaii Sea Grant.

In all, Kaloko-Honokohau is home to 16 threatened and endangered species. Rainfall over portions of the aquifer decreased four to seven percent from 1920 to 2007, according to a UH study.

“Pumping is increasing, rainfall is decreasing and sea levels are rising,” Zimpfer said.

The studies all point to potential harm, triggering the park’s mandate to protect resources unimpaired for future generations, within the context of a traditional ahupuaa system, Superintendent Tammy Duchesne said.

“What happens mauka flows down makai, and makai doesn’t end at the shoreline,” Duchesne said.

The National Park Service last fall petitioned for the state Commission on Water Resource Management to designate the Keauhou aquifer a water management area, which would lead to state scrutiny of proposed and existing uses. Hawaii County doesn’t have the mechanisms in place to protect the aquifer against possible over-pumping, according to the NPS, a claim the county contests.

The NPS funded 10 years of water science examining quality and quantity, held discussions with stakeholders and participated in water working groups before pursuing the designation, Duchesne said.

“We are mandated to be proactive to prevent harm,” she said.

Consultant Jonathan Scheuer told the group that wells are being concentrated around the park, meaning that their impact to the park specifically is much greater than their overall effect on the aquifer.

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County officials and other interests who are worried about the ramifications of another layer of bureaucracy say the aquifer is not being pumped anywhere near a level that would threaten it. In a series of water roundtables in past months, consultants have presented studies refuting the park’s findings.

CWRM is scheduled to decide on Dec. 10 whether to pursue the designation, and will make a final decision in March. Meanwhile, the commission is on notice to respond to an allegation by the Hawaii Leeward Planning Conference that it violated open meeting laws during fact-finding visits to the island in September and October.

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