Water – We’re Over-Pumping Already

The Iao and Waihee aquifers, in the vicinity of Wailuku, Maui, are the source of over 75 percent of the ground water that is pumped for municipal purposes on Maui… Data has shown that water levels in the Iao aquifer have declined to nearly one-half of the predevelopment water levels, chloride concentrations of the pumped water from at least two of the wells in the area has risen to levels above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary drinking water guideline of 250 milligrams per liter, and the transition zone of the freshwater lens has risen from about 823 feet in 1985 to 667 feet in 2007  Read the USGS Report which indicates that we are already overusing our aquifers and cannot add any more demand.

Wailea 670 is a large, upscale development which would be a major consumer of water in the area. They plan to water the golf course with brackish wells on the land.

However, there may already be a problem with the aquifer in question being tapped to capacity. A source at the Wailea Golf Club said “We have to be very careful not to overpump or the sodium content goes through the roof…That kills the grass….I believe this is the same aquifer Wailea 670 would use.”

The last known government study of water in the area was in 1968. This inspires all kinds of questions which you could bring to the attention of the Maui County Council land use committee via its chairman, (lu.committee@mauicounty.us), and the newspaper (letters@mauinews.com). It would be reasonable to demand a thorough government water study before any more building, upzoning or golf courses are permitted in the area. The capacity of any wells involved in this project and the aquifers they effect should certainly be studied by independent experts.

In order to avoid using Ioa water, Wailea 670 proposes to get water from the Kamaole aquifer. Wayne Bachman, geologist, investigates this claim and suggests that further study is required. Read pdf report. In a nutshell, drawing down the brackish water impacts the fresh water as the brackish water becomes more salty and what used to be fresh turns brackish.

Desalinating water requires huge amounts of energy. This is cost effective in the Mideast with its plentiful and cheap oil but not on Maui which has one of the highest energy costs in the U.S. Who will finance the new electric generating plants to run Wailea’s desalinization plants?


This article from U.S. Water News Online raises questions about development capacity for the island of Maui as a whole, and gives an understanding about how rapidly a water crisis could escalate. [article no longer available]

In lush Hawaii, some see ‘train-wreck scenario’ as early warning of growing world water crisis.
Water News Online May 2002

HANA, Hawaii — On the paradise island of Maui, where some of the world’s heaviest rains pelt lush peaks, scientists say big users squander water so badly that main wells may soon be contaminated by salt.

“They’ll be lucky if they have another five years at this rate,” said William Meyer, who recently retired as the U.S. Geological Survey’s regional director. “This is a train-wreck scenario.”

Maui, water experts say, is an alarming example of what happens in an isolated microcosm — an island, in this case — as conflicting interests must fight over runoff from rains and dwindling underground reserves.

Although by itself only a dot in the Pacific, Maui is viewed as a revealing laboratory not only for the rest of Hawaii but also the wider world beyond.

“Places like this have no Colorado River to fight over,” Meyer said. “When they realize they’re out of water, it is all of a sudden, and it is too late.”

Already, native Hawaiians who plant their staple taro see streams go dry at a quickening rate because agriculture barons and land developers use their historical rights to divert water. That may be only the beginning.

On volcanic islands, rain that does not run out to sea settles in porous groundwater aquifers, forming what geologists call a lens of fresh water above encroaching salt water.

But, hydrologists say, for each foot of fresh water taken from these subsurface aquifers, heavier salt water pushes up 40 feet. As a result, uncontrolled pumping can mean calamity in a hurry.

Hastened by four years of drought, levels have plummeted in Maui’s Iao aquifer, from 18 feet above sea level in 1990 to 10 feet in 2001. That left only 400 feet in the freshwater lens.

Planners say Maui’s population of 150,000 could reach 1 million by 2050 as tourism expands, making hard choices inevitable. A hotel complex or golf course needs a million gallons a day, enough for 10,000 people.

Even now, few people talk about the crisis.

In 2001, United States Geological Survey (USGS) hydrologists Todd K. Presley and William Meyer stated “Although the value for sustainable yield is presently set at 20 Mgal/d, the response of the (Iao) aquifer to pumping (in terms of water-level declines and the rise in the freshwater/saltwater interface) has raised questions concerning this value.”

Stephen Gingerich, hydrologist with the USGS, provides current data which supports their conclusion. The Iao aquifer supplies domestic use in Central and South Maui, including Wailea. If further development is permitted in the Makena area and the aquifers their wells would tap are not adequate, they will become too saline. Chances are, they will then turn to diminishing County water supplies to bail them out, aggravating an already risky situation.

Project Chief: Stephen Gingerich
Project Period: March 2002 through September 2007
Cooperator: Maui County Department of Water Supply

Problem: The Iao and Waihee aquifers, in the vicinity of Wailuku, Maui, are the source of over 75 percent of the ground water that is pumped for municipal purposes on Maui. The Iao and Waihee aquifers, as delineated by the State of Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management, are currently pumped at about 18 and 4.6 million gallons per day (Mgal/d), respectively. The Commission on Water Resource Management has set a sustainable yield for the Iao aquifer at 20 Mgal/d.

Data has shown that water levels in the Iao aquifer have declined to nearly one-half of the predevelopment water levels, chloride concentrations of the pumped water from at least two of the wells in the area has risen to levels above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency secondary drinking water guideline of 250 milligrams per liter, and the transition zone of the freshwater lens has risen from about 823 feet in 1985 to 667 feet in 2007. More comprehensive water-resource data are needed to quantify the stress on existing supplies and to better model and evaluate possible water-supply management options.


The EPA has documented a drying trend in the Hawai’ian islands (possibly linked to global warming). So in addition to overusing our existing aquifers, we are also facing a decreasing replenishment of our natural water cycle. Links follow:


Ulupalakua Ranch not involved with Wailea 670/Honua’ula

It has come to my attention that there are some misunderstandings about the relationship between Ulupalakua Ranch Inc. and the Wailea 670/Honua’ula development.

First, Ulupalakua Ranch Inc. is not an investor, partner or etc. in this project. Second, neither the developer nor its potential buyers have any access rights to Upcountry through Ulupalakua Ranch property. Third, Ulupalakua Ranch Inc. is not providing well sites for this project on Ulupalakua Ranch property.

Sumner P. Erdman, President
Ulupalakua Ranch Inc.