Desalinated Water, Carrying Capacity of O’ahu, and Controlling Population Growth


The Ho’opili housing project, which will fill the area between Waipahu and Kapolei with 12,000 more homes, continues to chalk up solid reasons why it must never be built. When it is completely built out, Ho’opili will require an additional 3.87 million gallons of water a day for its homes.   The amount of water that will be available is difficult to estimate because how much will percolate down under areas covered with houses in recent decades is unknown.  The Board of Water Supply is working with the premise that 20 – 50 million gallons a day (mgd) will be available in Central Oahu  and 27.5 mgd could be sent to Leeward to fill its needs.   The problem is that if only 20 mgd percolates down, Leeward will be 7.5 mgd short.   BWS is prepared to begin desalination in 2020.  Ho’opili, being the last to move through the Land Use Commission will be approved with knowledge that there is possibly no fresh water for it at all.   Its 3.87 mgd may come entirely from the 7.5 mgd of desalted water.

Ho’opili, then, is a critical project, the first to be approved possibly requiring all desalinated water.  However, there is no plan to give the desalinated water to Ho’opili.  It will go to people on the Wai’anae Coast.

Desalination is not natural; it consumes great energy in the desalting process; it is very high priced and will be an economic burden for generations to come; and it produces huge amounts of brine which need to be disposed of.   It also tastes flat.  We should not allow it.

But there is another MAJOR consideration that is not commonly known.  The majority of the people in Hawaii, and the majority of the people of the world who are familiar with Hawaii, want these islands to remain a tropical paradise.  They want the islands to remain green and open.  They don’t want to see them paved over and covered with houses.  There has been a problem curtailing the development that paves over the islands, however: United States law gives American citizens the right to travel to, and move to, anywhere in the country.  US law, however, does allow control of in-migration when an area reaches its “carrying capacity.”  Our island certainly reaches its natural carrying capacity when it runs out of fresh water to meet the needs of its people.  Until we reached the point of desalination, there was no way to get control of in-migration.  We need to take advantage of this carrying-capacity tool to reclaim control of the future or our island.  We should not allow the nine members of the Land Use Commission to move us beyond this critical juncture.  This should become a matter of major public debate, and the people of this island should decide by plebiscite if passing this milestone and moving into desalination is something they want.

 This is a terribly important point, and alone is reason enough to hold off approval of Ho’opili by the LUC until appropriate branches of lawmakers have a chance to consider all that would be involved with the approval.  

 Further, even if the Central aquifer should have 50 mgd available in the future, 27.5 will go to Leeward, leaving only 22.5 mgd.  That is the end of fresh water for this side of the island.  It has to fill our needs for hundreds of years, thousands of years.  Isn’t it time we pulled back and realized that future generations may have great needs for this water in ways we cannot even contemplate?   Who are we to give away the last of the fresh water on this island?

 (Since writing this piece in 2009, it has become known that O’ahu has been receiving ever decreasing amounts of rainfall for over a decade.  We are now 10% below the amount twenty years ago.  This, of course, will greatly affect yields in fifty years, and the Board of Water Supply has not been figuring that decrease into the plans above.   It will take someone on the City Council to make this an issue if we want to be prepared.)

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