For centuries, Hawaiians recognized the life giving qualities, significance and value of water to their survival. Water is wealth; water is life.
On islands with limited supplies of water, we need to better understand the importance of water in our lives. With greater understanding, we may then give greater respect (and attention and care) to water and recognize its critical link to our quality of life and ultimate existence.
Ground and surface water resources are held in public trust for the benefit of the citizens of the state. The people of Hawai‘i are beneficiaries and have a right to have water protected for their use and/or benefit.
The Hawaii Supreme Court identified water-related public trust purposes: Maintenance of water in their natural state; Domestic water use of the general public, particularly drinking water; and Exercise of Native Hawaiian traditional and customary rights.
The object of the public trust is not to maximize consumptive use, but, rather, the most equitable reasonable and beneficial allocation of state water resources, with full recognition that resource protection also constitutes “use.”
“Reasonable and beneficial use” means the use of water for economic and efficient utilization for a purpose and in a manner which is both reasonable and consistent with the state and county land use plans and the public interest.
Such uses include: domestic uses, aquacultural uses, irrigation and other agricultural uses, power development, and commercial and industrial uses.
Under the State Constitution (Article XI,) the State has an obligation to protect, control and regulate the use of Hawaii’s water resources for the benefit of its people.
Over 90% of our drinking water statewide comes from ground water resources.
This percentage could change to include more surface water, as Counties make use of surface water ditches formerly run by sugar companies, most whose fields have since been taken out of sugar cultivation.
Virtually all of our fresh water comes through our forests.
Forests absorb the mist, fog and rain, and then release the water into ground water aquifers and surface water streams. Healthy forests protect against erosion and sediment run-off into our streams and ocean.
A healthy forest is critically important to everyone in Hawaii.
We are fortunate that 100-years ago, some forward-thinkers established Hawai‘i’s forest reserve system and set aside forested lands and protected our forested watersheds – thereby protecting the means to recharge our ground water resources.
Interestingly, it was the sugar growers, significant users of Hawai‘i’s water resources, who led the forest reserve protection movement.
Threats to the forests, and ultimately to our fresh water resources, are real and diverse – whether it is miconia (a tree that prevents rain water from soaking into the watershed, resulting in run-off and erosion,) ungulates (such as pigs and goats that disturb the forest floor and lower level shrubs and ferns) or the many other invasive plants and animals that negatively impact the native forest resources.
We are reminded of the importance of respect and responsibility we each share for the environment and our natural and cultural resources – including our responsibility to protect and properly use and manage our water resources.
I was honored to have served for 4½-years as the Chair of the State’s Commission on Water Resource Management overseeing and regulating the State’s water resources.
We are fortunate people living in a very special place. Let’s continue to work together to make Hawaii a great place to live.