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Long-term groundwater availability in the Waihe‘e, ‘Īao, and Waikapū aquifer systems, Maui, Hawai‘i

June 3, 2022

Groundwater levels have declined since the 1940s in the Wailuku area of central Maui, Hawai‘i, on the eastern flank of West Maui volcano, mainly in response to increased groundwater withdrawals. Available data since the 1980s also indicate a thinning of the freshwater lens and an increase in chloride concentrations of pumped water from production wells. These trends, combined with projected increases in demand for groundwater in central Maui, have led to concerns over groundwater availability and have highlighted a need to improve general understanding of the hydrologic effects of proposed groundwater withdrawals in the Waihe‘e, ‘Īao, and Waikapū areas of central Maui.

A numerical groundwater model was constructed to simulate the flow and salinity of groundwater in central Maui. The model simulates the effects of changes in groundwater withdrawals and recharge on water levels, freshwater-lens thicknesses, and chloride concentrations of pumped water from production wells. The model incorporates updated water-budget estimates of groundwater recharge from infiltration and direct recharge, seepage in stream channels, and inflow from inland areas. Mean annual groundwater recharge from infiltration and direct recharge was estimated using a daily water-budget model and the most current data, including the distributions of monthly rainfall and potential evapotranspiration, for the study area for nine historical periods from 1926 through 2012: 1926–69, 1970–79, 1980–84, 1985–89, 1990–94, 1995–99, 2000–04, 2005–09, and 2010–12. The water-budget model also estimated groundwater recharge based on one hypothetical scenario that used 1980–2010 rainfall and 2017 land cover. For the nine historical periods, estimated recharge from infiltration and direct recharge within the area of the groundwater model ranged from 30.4 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) during 2010–12 to 98.7 Mgal/d during 1926–69. Variability in recharge during these periods mainly reflects changes in rainfall and irrigation over time. Between 2010 and 2014, streamflow restoration in previously diverted streams resulted in an estimated increase in recharge from seepage in stream channels of about 12.5 Mgal/d. Average groundwater inflow of about 39.6 Mgal/d from inland, dike-intruded areas to the main area of interest was estimated from an existing island-wide numerical groundwater-flow model, which is at a larger scale and incorporates a greater number of simplifying assumptions.

The numerical groundwater model developed for this study was calibrated to 1926–2012 transient water levels, vertical salinity profiles, and chloride concentrations of water pumped by production wells in the study area. The model was then used to evaluate one future recharge and six selected withdrawal scenarios, developed in consultation with the Maui Department of Water Supply, in terms of long-term changes in water level and 50-percent ocean-water salinity surface. The groundwater model was also used to simulate the future salinity of water withdrawn by existing and proposed production wells. The simulations were run to steady-state conditions, providing an estimate of the long-term effects of changes in withdrawal and recharge on the groundwater resource. Results of the simulated future withdrawal scenarios indicate that, relative to 2017–18 rates, the scenarios’ long-term effect of increased withdrawals ultimately leads to lower water levels and a higher 50-percent ocean-water salinity surface indicating a thinning of the freshwater lens. Results also indicate that the increased withdrawals produce some groundwater with chloride concentration below 250 milligrams per liter and some groundwater with higher chloride concentration. The amount of drawdown near production wells and the quality of water withdrawn from production wells is dependent on the rate and spatial distribution of the withdrawals.

The model was also used to evaluate how groundwater availability may be affected for a drier recharge scenario based on a published study of future climate. Model results of the future recharge scenario indicate that the rate of groundwater recharge is a controlling factor for (1) water levels, (2) the 50-percent ocean-water salinity surface, and (3) the quality of water withdrawn from production wells in the Wailuku area. Coupled with reduced groundwater recharge (with all other factors remaining equal), the modeled future withdrawals in the scenario would tend to cause lower water levels, a higher 50-percent ocean-water salinity surface, and increased salinity of water withdrawn from production wells.

The three-dimensional numerical groundwater model developed for this study utilizes the latest available hydrologic and geologic information and is a useful tool for understanding the long-term hydrologic effects of additional groundwater withdrawals in central Maui. The model has several limitations, including its non-uniqueness and inability to account for local-scale heterogeneities. Short-term effects of changes in recharge and withdrawals—and optimization of pumping rates to meet increased demand for water with acceptable salinity—are possible conditions for future simulation analyses.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Long-term groundwater availability in the Waihe‘e, ‘Īao, and Waikapū aquifer systems, Maui, Hawai‘i
DOI 10.3133/sir20215113
Authors Kolja Rotzoll, Delwyn S. Oki, Adam G. Johnson, William R. Souza
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2021-5113
Index ID sir20215113
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Islands Water Science Center