Water supply was relatively primitive in the early days of Honolulu. The residents commonly relied on the water from springs and streams, sometimes carrying calabashes of water great distances over rugged terrain.
Wm R Warren reportedly made the earliest attempt to dig a well in Honolulu, around 1820, but failed to find water. The first successful well was dug two years later by Joseph Navarro in his yard near the Bethel.
Visiting Honolulu about the same time, in 1822, Tyerman and Bennet recorded that “good fresh water is obtained from wells sunk eight or ten feet through the coral reef.”
The first unit of a public water system was completed by March 31, 1848, using lead pipe acquired from Ladd & Co. the previous September.
According to the Minister of the Interior, “a water tank, for the convenience of shipping, was placed in the basement of the new Harbor Master and Pilots’ Office, near the wharf (foot of Nu‘uanu street), and it was supplied through a leaden pipe from a reservoir at Pelekane….” (Schmitt)
After the completion of the Bates Street reservoir in 1851, nearby businesses and homes were connected with the main. The system was further expanded in 1860-1861, eventually covering most of the city.
The first artesian well in the Islands was drilled in the summer of 1879 near James Campbell’s ranch house in Ewa and on September 22, a good flow of water was obtained. On April 28, 1880, an artesian well was successfully completed on the land of A. Marques near Punahou. (Schmitt)
To supply water for ʻIolani Palace, Kalākaua authorized a well on Palace grounds. “On Saturday morning (January 27, 1883) at 5 o’clock the water was reached in the well sunk in the Palace yard.”
“No means were available to stop or check the flow, and the whole grounds were soon covered with water. Alakea and Richard streets, from King street to the sea, were flooded all day.” (Daily Bulletin, January 29, 1883)
“Water was struck at the artesian well which is being sunk at the Palace grounds by Messrs McCandless and Braden … an increased flow was struck at a total depth of 760-feet the water rising fully six inches above the top of the 8 3/8 iron pipe.”
“Very little obstruction has been encountered during the sinking of the well, the soil being mostly of a clayey description. The stream whistles which announced the strike of water, both on the morning and evening, sent many people wandering to the wharves to look for the Suez.” (Hawaiian Gazette, January 31, 1883)
However, concern was raised on the impact of the Palace well on the city’s water supply. “During the last three weeks the water in the well in the Palace yard has fallen two inches. That is, it now rises to one foot below the height to which it rose when it was first bored.”
“At this rate it would take less than 10 years to lower the water to such an extent that no Artesian well on the would flow.”
“And that calculation is based on the supposition that no more wells will be bored and that no greater consumption of water will be found during that time than at present.” (Hawaiian Gazette, July 13, 1883)
“On Monday the well in the Palace yard was connected with the mains along Hotel street to Nu‘uanu, and up Fort, Richard, and Alakea streets to Beretania, so that we have that additional supply.” (Hawaiian Gazette, July 13, 1883)
Later, “During those periods when there was a shortage in the water supply of Honolulu, especially in the hot summer months and at which time the Water Department of the City and County of Honolulu limited the hours in which irrigation was permitted …”
“… the grass and trees in the Capitol (ʻIolani Palace) Grounds suffered and decidedly showed it from lack of sufficient water. For this reason it was deemed advisable to utilize this re-cased artesian well to supply water for irrigating said grounds.”
“As the ordinary pump house seemed rather out of place and would be somewhat of an eyesore to the Capitol Grounds, it was decided to construct the pump house under-ground and make that portion projecting out of the ground a large ornamental flower pot, enclosed in which is located the pressure tank.”
“The pump house will be circular in section measuring 8 ft. inside diameter and 6 ft. high, on top of which is located the pressure tank 6 ft. inside diameter and 3 ft. high, lined with galvanized iron and ornamented and so constructed that ferns or flowers may be planted in same.”
“There will be a small fountain in the top and an iron manhole for access to the pressure chamber. Access to the pump chamber will be by a winding staircase. The entire structure except as noted will be constructed of reinforced concrete.”
“The pressure tank will be connected to a piping system laid around the Capitol Grounds, which has been so laid out that different sections of the grounds may be irrigated independently by operating the proper valves.”
“The work of installing the piping, pump, etc., and placing this system in operation, will be paid for out of funds appropriated by the 1921 Legislature for that purpose. It is hoped that with this system in operation there will be an abundance of water for irrigation purposes even in the driest periods.” (Report of the Superintendent of Public Works, 1921)