HPA summer session students discuss results of 10-day North Hawaii water use survey

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<p>HPA summer session students meet with Senator Malama Solomon during their Environmental Stewardship course. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HPA FOR NHN)</p>
<p>Students in HPA’s summer session Environmental Stewardship course pose for a photo with Sen. Malama Solomon during a field trip. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HPA FOR NHN)</p>
<p>With the Kohala Watershed Partnership, HPA summer session students helped clear invasive ginger from the cloud forest in the Kanea’a a Ponoholo Biodiversity Preserve. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HPA FOR NHN)</p>

Water use, protection and conservation are global issues. Five international youth learned more about water issues on Hawaii Island as a model for water protection and use in their own backyards.

The students conducted a 10-day survey about water use on Hawaii Island as part of a course at Hawaii Preparatory Academy Summer Session. Riki Ott, PhD, created the Environmental Stewardship summer session course at HPA.

They also interviewed community leaders and public officials and went on field trips, including attending a town meeting to gain firsthand knowledge. They took turns discussing what they learned with other students and the public on July 18 at HPA’s Gates Performing Arts Center.

“Even though we’re from different countries, water is a common concern,” said Daniel Mark, a seventh grader from California.

Mark opened the one-hour public presentation by talking about the unique water, or hydrologic, cycle on tropical islands, how climate change is now affecting the water cycle on Hawaii Island, and what is likely to occur as the global climate continues to change.

Tenth-grader Isabella Mann from Hong Kong explained how the Hawaii Constitution protects water resources and establishes a unique legal framework, based on the Public Trust Doctrine and Precautionary Principle.

“This framework gives Hawaii the best chance to adopt to climate change impacts — if the laws are protected and if the policies are actually put into practice,” Mann said.

Keanu Meyer, a tenth grader from Tahiti, described the four-part survey design. Most of the survey respondents were from the South Kohala District, but every district on Hawaii was represented except Ka‘u.

Ninth grader Naho Sakemi from Japan reported that most respondents understood what a watershed is and know if their tap water is ground water, surface water or rain catchment. This is good, she said, because “people who understand where their tap water comes from are more likely to practice water stewardship.”

Most respondents agreed that climate change poses a serious threat to Hawaii Island’s environment, health and economy and that Hawaii is in a five-year drought. But only three in five respondents realized that during the last 20 years there has been less rainfall and less stream flow, while only two in five realized both air temperatures and sea level were increasing.

Mark interpreted this to mean that while people accept that climate change is a threat, people do not understand just how climate change happens–or see the changes happening.

As for who is responsible for water stewardship–protecting, conserving, and managing fresh water resources on Hawaii Island, respondents thought that everyone was responsible. Mann reported that results were evenly divided among the choices of federal, state, and local governments, County of Water Supply, community, and household.

However, Mann found that when people were asked specifically if there was good progress toward responsible water or growth management, planning for climate change, water- or energy-conscious construction, or replacing fossil fuels with other energy sources, most people were unsure and wanted more information.

Mann explained that people “do not have strong confidence in the authorities’ progress toward the goal of sustainable water management.”

The students learned that as the climate heats up, Hawaii Island is likely to have more problems with both water quantity and water quality. The Hawaii County Department of Water Supply is already having increased maintenance costs to control fire and invasive species. While respondents were willing to pay for these increased costs, and also to allow farmers to pay lower rates for potable water used for agriculture, people wanted more information.

In discussing these issues, Sakemi described that when a society reflects human values, such as those framed in the Hawaii Constitution, the economy does not sacrifice social, environmental, or political wealth in order to grow.

The youth gave four recommendations. Mann said, “Protect the legal framework: we can’t have sustainability without democracy.” Meyer said, “Move sustainable policies into practices. People support this.” Mark said, “Create incentives for green practices.” And Sakemi supported efforts like town meetings and community organizations to “educate the public and involve youth in making decisions and taking actions to protect water resources.”

The youth also gave the survey data and questions to the Waimea Community Association to extend the use and benefits to the community. The presentation will be available at http://waimeatown.org/.