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Geology and ground-water resources of the island of Oahu, Hawaii

January 1, 1935

Oahu, one of the islands of the Hawaiian group, lies in the Mid-Pacific 2,100 miles southwest of San Francisco. The principal city is Honolulu. The Koolau Range makes up the eastern part of the island, and the Waianae Range the western part. Both are extinct basaltic volcanoes deeply dissected by erosion. The Koolau Volcano was the later to become extinct.
The Waianae Range is made up of three groups of lavas erupted in Tertiary and possibly in early Pleistocene time. The exposed part of the older lava is nearly 2,000 feet thick and consists largely of thin-bedded pahoehoe. It is separated in most places from the middle lavas by an angular unconformity and talus breccia and in a few places by an erosional unconformity. The middle basalts are about 2,000 feet thick and closely resemble the lower ones except that they contain more aa. The upper lavas reach a thickness of about 2,300 feet and are mostly massive aa flows. The last eruptions produced large cinder cones and some nephelite basalts. The Waianae Volcano, like other Hawaiian volcanoes, produced only small amounts of ash, and the lavas were largely extruded from fissures a few feet wide, now occupied by dikes. The center of activity was near Kolekole Pass, at the head of Lualualei Valley.
The Koolau Volcano is made up of two groups of lavas extruded in Tertiary and early Pleistocene (?) time. The older group, the Kailua volcanic series, is greatly altered by hydrothermal action and was extruded from fissures near Lanikai. The flows of the younger group, the Koolau volcanic series, were extruded from fissures about a mile south of the Kailua rift and have an exposed thickness of about 3,000 feet. The Koolau Volcano produced even less ash than the Waianae Volcano, and its flows are thin-bedded pahoehoe and aa. The eruptive center of the Koolau Volcano lies between Kaneohe and Waimanalo.
Great amounts of both the Waianae and Koolau Ranges were removed by fluvial and marine erosion during the Pleistocene. The master streams are characterized by deep amphitheater-headed valleys. After this erosion cycle the island was submerged more than 1,200 feet, and these great valleys were drowned and alluviated. Besides this submergence, several strand lines, preserved up to 100 feet above present sea level occur, which may be due to world-wide changes in sea level in response to the withdrawal and restoration of water concurrent with the advances and recessions of the polar ice caps and to accompanying changes in the ocean floor. During this time of shifting ocean levels spasmodic eruptions occurred on the southeast end of the Koolau Range, producing numerous lava flows and tuff cones, most of which are nephelite basalt.
The last of these eruptions occurred in Recent time. A description of the climate, rates of run-off, and results of experiments to determine evaporation and transpiration in the areas of high rainfall are given. It was found that the consumptive use decreases materially and becomes a very small percentage of the rainfall in the areas of high precipitation.
The lava rocks of the island are very permeable and, because of a rainfall reaching a maximum of 300 inches a year, carry large amounts of ground water, confined and unconfined, basal and perched. The basal ground water floats on salt water because of its lower specific gravity. Consequently for each foot the water table stands above sea level, salt water lies about 42 feet below sea level, in accordance with the sea along the coast as basal ground water. In most places the lava rocks along the shore are overlain by an impermeable or nearly impermeable caprock consisting of submerged lateritic soils and marine noncalcareous sediments. These deposits retard the escape of basal ground water into the sea and give rise to artesian water, but unlike most other artesian systems, this one has no lower restraining formation.
The artesian water is the principal source of domestic, municipal, and irrigation supplies. The average annual quantity pumped for the period 1928 to 1933 amounted to about 105,000,000,000 gallons, nearly 90 percent of which came from Koolau hasalt and the remainder from Waianae basalt.
There are ten artesian areas in the Koolau Range and two in the Waianae Range. Hydraulic gradients in these basins were found to range from 1.2 to 3 feet to the mile. Because of these extremely flat gradients and the high permeability of the aquifers it is possible to reverse the hydraulic gradients by draft and make the water flow from one artesian area to another.
The artesian water levels fluctuate in response to seasonal variations in draft and recharge and in a lesser way to tidal, barometric, and seismic pressures.
The water, as shown by chemical analysis, is of excellent quality except where it is contaminated with sea water. Methods have been devised for freshening wells that have gone salty, for detecting leaks, for sealing leaky and defective wells, and for recharging the artesian basins.
Owing to the danger of the wells becoming brackish with increased draft, it is believed that further large developments will be more successful if shafts are sunk to sea level in the basalt as far inland as practicable, and tunnels are driven from the bottom of the shafts near the top of the saturated zone. Favorable places for such development exist in Honolulu.
In addition to the basal water in the volcanic rocks, water is found in the recent gravel, beach, and dune deposits, and the emerged reef limestone. This water has been recovered by wells and tunnels, and there are favorable localities for developing additional water of this type.
The island contains two types of basal springs—those like the Pearl Harbor Springs, which issue from basalt and are supplied by overflow and leakage from the artesian basin, and those which issue from the coastal-plain sediments and are mainly return irrigation water. The total quantity of basal ground water issuing as springs is estimated to be 100,000,000 gallons a day.
Ground water occurs at high levels, confined by dikes and perched on tuff, alluvium, and soil beds. These structures give rise to innumerable high-level springs. In the Koolau Range 60 tunnels yield about 33,000,000 gallons daily, of which about 95 percent is obtained from tunnels penetrating the dike complex of the Koolau volcanic series, about 2 percent from tunnels entering post-Koolau ash or tuff deposits, and the remainder from tunnels whose geologic relations are not certainly known. The average daily yield of the tunnels that recover dike water is 2,330 gallons a foot, but the average daily yield of the tunnels in post-Koolau tuff is 450 gallons a foot, and that of the tunnels in alluvium or soil is only 23 gallons a foot.
Owing largely to the much lower rainfall on the Waianac Range, its 35 tunnels (not including two new tunnels under construction) yield only about 2,400,000 gallons daily, about 94 percent of which is believed to be obtained from dike systems. The average daily yield of the tunnels in this range that are supplied by dike systems is 581 gallons a foot, as compared to 5 gallons a foot from tunnels in ash or tuff.
An extensive tunnel system is proposed to develop a large supply of high-level water for Honolulu from the dike complex of the Koolau series, and high-level water can be recovered by tunnels at many other places.
The average daily discharge of all high-level springs in the Koolau Range is about 58,000,000 gallons, of which about 94 percent comes from the Koolau dike complex and about 6 percent from post-Koolau volcanic rocks. The average daily discharge of all high-level springs in the Waianae Range is about 500,000 gallons of which about 81 percent issues from the dike complex.

Publication Year 1935
Title Geology and ground-water resources of the island of Oahu, Hawaii
Authors Harold T. Stearns, Knute N. Vaksvik
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Series Title Bulletin
Series Number 1
Index ID 70160862
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Division of Hydrography