Strengthening Hawaii's Communities

Strengthen Hawaii's Communities

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Fresh Water

Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, it’s easy for those of us in Hawaii to appreciate that water covers 70% of Earth’s surface. Harder to fathom is the fact that only three percent of the earth’s water is fresh, and less than one percent supports all life on land. The stark difference between “wet” and “dry” sides of our Islands has made water REUSE management pivotal in Hawaii’s history. Add to that a decrease of rainfall of 18 percent over the last 30 years; a population that has doubled since 1959; record levels of visitors; the reality that half of Hawaii’s watershed forests have been destroyed… and the result is a potential fresh water crisis.

Against this uncertain backdrop, HCF created the Wai Maoli: Hawaii Fresh Water Initiative in 2013, which is currently supported by a funding partnership with 10 additional funders. “HCF continuously looks for innovative approaches to really complex problems,” said Josh Stanbro, Program Director of Environment & Sustainability at HCF. “Fresh water is at the center of our economy and ecology, we just thought it was too important to cross fingers and hope for the best.” HCF invited stakeholders from all sides of the issue — agriculture, private landowners, scientists, and government officials — to convene as a Fresh Water Council (Council).

HCF asked us to do something different. We were tasked to come up with collective recommendations for improving our shared water supply, even though many members came from opposing sides regarding use.

The result? A Blueprint for Action with a goal of providing 100 million gallons a day of additional reliable fresh water supply by 2030 via clear solutions that have broad, multiparty support. “I’ve got to admit, I had my doubts,” said Council member Sumner Erdman. “But HCF provided the space and structure to get to know one another, find common ground and ultimately come to agreement.”


Unlike many Blue Ribbon Panels that disband after issuing their report, members of the Council have agreed to continue working together to help implement the recommendations. Water, as we know, is essential to life. And collaboration, we’ve found, is essential to protecting our quality of life in Hawaii.

To achieve this goal, the council identified three aggressive targets and strategies.

The team approach is already paying off. Just after issuing the Blueprint, the Council helped support and pass key state laws during the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions that will improve Hawaii’s ability to capture, reuse, and store fresh water—making us all a little more secure. The Fresh Water Blueprint for Action lays a foundation for a sustainable water future for our state. It offers Hawaii’s decision makers a new vision and clear recommendations for policy changes that have broad, multi-party support.

California offers a cautionary tale: the recent drought in that state resulted in 25% mandatory water use cuts and over $50 billion in economic damage. The Wai Maoli: Hawaii Fresh Water Initiative will be working to implement a strong, proactive agenda to protect Hawaii’s fresh water future, and avoid costly problems down the road.


Interested in learning more about our Fresh Water Intiative or getting involved with other environmental programs ?

Contact Program Director Dana Okano, Ph.D. AICP by email at Contact the Environment Program by calling  808.566.5554, or by email at