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Publications—Water-Resources Investigations Report 99–4171

Hydrology and Water and Sediment Quality at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge near Kahuku, Island of Oahu, Hawaii

By Charles D. Hunt, Jr., and Eric H. De Carlo

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The James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge occupies two lowland marsh and pond complexes on the northern coastal plain of Oahu: the mostly natural ponds and wetlands of the Punamano Unit and the constructed ponds of the Kii Unit. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Refuge primarily to protect and enhance habitat for four endangered species of Hawaiian waterbirds. Kii Unit is fed by artesian wells and rainfall, whereas Punamano Unit is fed naturally by rainfall, runoff, and ground-water seepage. Streams drain from the uplands into lowland ditches that pass through Kii Unit on their way to the ocean. A high-capacity pump transfers water from the inner ditch terminus at Kii to the ocean outlet channel. Stormwaters also exit the inner ditch system over flood-relief swales near the outlet pump and through a culvert with a one-way valve.

A hydrologic investigation was done from November 1996 through February 1998 to identify and quantify principal inflows and outflows of water to and from the Refuge, identify hydraulic factors affecting flooding, document ground-water/surface-water interactions, determine the adequacy of the current freshwater supply, and determine water and sediment quality. These goals were accomplished by installing and operating a network of stream-gaging stations, meteorology stations, and shallow ground-water piezometers, by computing water budgets for the two Refuge units, and by sampling and analyzing water and pond-bottom sediments for major ions, trace metals, and organic compounds.

Streamflow during the study was dominated by winter stormflows, followed by a gradual recession of flow into summer 1997, as water that had been stored in alluvial fans drained to lowland ditches. Outflow at the ditch terminus in 1997 was 125 million gallons greater than measured inflow to the coastal plain, mainly reflecting gains from ground water along the ditches between outlying gages and the ditch terminus. Of the measured 1997 outflow, 98 percent was through the Kii outlet pump, with the outlet culvert valve only opening for brief periods during storms. Large volumes of stormflow overflowed the flood-relief swales unmeasured.

The largest storm of the study, in November 1996, was estimated to have a flood frequency of about 3 to 4 years. Streamflow exceeded culvert capacity and overtopped Kamehameha Highway at Kalaeokahipa Stream and Hospital ditch. Slight overbank flooding in Kii ditch resulted strictly from high discharge. Minor overbank flooding farther out on the coastal plain probably was caused mainly by the small hydraulic gradients available to convey stormflows along the lowland ditches. Stormwaters flooded Kii ponds and flowed back upstream along Punamano ditch into Punamano marsh, introducing suspended sediment and possibly other contaminants to the Refuge. Two smaller storms in January 1997 resulted in smaller flows and no overbank flooding. The Kii outlet pump ran continuously for 7 days during the November 1996 storm and for 1 to 2 days during the January 1997 storms. During all three storms, the outlet culvert valve opened and the inner ditches overtopped the flood-relief swales, allowing free outflow of water from the inner ditch.

Backwater effects hindered drainage during the January 1997 storms at Hospital ditch at Kamehameha Highway, and at Punamano ditch at Nudist Camp Road (where the backflow into Punamano marsh in November 1996 constituted an extreme backwater effect). A probable marine backwater effect was imposed at the ocean outlet ditch during the November 1996 storm through a combination of high spring tides and wave setup from large surf. Whether this backwater effect propagated upstream in the ditches to affect inland sites could not be determined conclusively. A sand plug may have built up in the ocean outlet channel before the November 1996 storm, but if so, it probably washed out prior to, or early in the storm, and was not present at the time of peak stage at inland sites. A season-long buildup of the sand plug in late 1997 was inferred from rising water levels in the outlet ditch. Seawater flows up the outlet channel or over the sand berm and into the outer ditch system on most high tides, and particularly during spring high tides.

Ponds and ditches of the Refuge and surrounding lowlands have mud- and clay-lined bottoms that form an effective confining unit and inhibit interaction with an underlying shallow limestone aquifer. At Kii Unit, pond levels are higher than adjacent ditch levels and underlying ground-water levels, establishing lateral and downward head gradients that could foster seepage losses from the ponds. Regional ground-water discharge from the Koolau aquifer to the coastal-plain sediments is mostly diffuse, but is concentrated where ridges of Koolau Basalt plunge beneath coastal-plain sediments near Punamano Unit and at the head of Hospital ditch. Kii ditch gains brackish ground water downstream of Kamehameha Highway. Wastewater disposal from the sewage treatment plant adjoining Kii Unit poses little or no threat to Refuge habitat. Disposal is at six injection wells located 0.45 mi away at Kahuku, and the wells inject into confined limestone aquifers that do not extend to Kii Unit.

The natural freshwater supply to Punamano Unit is adequate for maintaining the wildlife habitat, judging from stable pond levels and low salinities there. A monthly water budget for Punamano showed an apparent annual deficit in measurable flows in 1997, requiring unmeasured ground-water gains equalling 51 inches of water. The freshwater supply to Kii Unit is inadequate according to Refuge managers, because there is not enough water to manipulate levels adequately in the ponds during most of the year, and particularly during the driest months. This is confirmed by monthly deficits in the water budget for the Kii ponds during summer months. However, the Kii budget showed an annual surplus in measurable flows for 1997 equalling 24 inches of water. Unmeasured losses are required to explain the apparent annual surplus, such as discharge to the ditches through pond water-control structures and downward and/or lateral ground-water seepage. The apparent surplus at Kii is strictly hydrologic and is not a surplus in a management sense; it cannot be stored or used to supply the Refuge, but instead reflects losses from the system that render this amount of water unavailable for use. The budget year, 1997, was drier than normal (24 percent below long-term mean rainfall) and so the measured potential evaporation for 1997 was probably higher than the long-term mean.

Few metals or organic compounds of potential concern were detected in pond and ditch waters and in pond-bottom sediments. Detected pesticides were at trace levels or just above minimum reporting limits. Exceptions that exceeded quality guidelines for freshwater sediment were copper and zinc in sediment from Kii ponds C and D, and copper in sediment from Punamano north pond. Therefore, urban and agricultural runoff probably have contributed little in the way of harmful metals or organic compounds to the Refuge, although the potential for such contribution remains from periodic flooding of the ponds by ditch stormflows. Salinity was low throughout most Refuge waters, qualifying as fresh to slightly brackish and suitable for the environmental needs of Refuge fauna. Higher salinities have been observed in ditches during past periods of sugarcane cultivation and saltwater aquaculture, however. Resumption of saltwater aquaculture could raise ditch salinities if saltwater effluents are disposed directly into the ditches, as they were in the past.




Purpose and Scope


Description of the Study Area



Land Use

Data-Collection Program

Surface-Water Stations

Meteorology Stations

Ground-Water Stations

Water- and Sediment-Quality Stations


Water-Level Fluctuations in the Gaged Surface-Water Bodies

Runoff Volume

Observations Related to Stormflows and Flooding


Stream Response Times and Stream Gradients

Sea-Level Interactions and Potential Backwater Effects in Lowland Areas

Ground-Water/Surface-Water Interaction

Regional-Scale Hydrogeology

Principal Hydrogeologic Units

Sedimentary Depositional Sequence and Paleoenvironment

Nature of Ground-Water Discharge from the Koolau Aquifer

Contributions to Ditch Base Flow from Surficial Sediments

Pond-Scale Hydrogeology of the Punamano and Kii Units

Ground-Water and Surface-Water Salinity at Kii Unit Piezometers

Ground-Water/Surface-Water Interaction at Kii Unit

Regional Salinity Survey and Reconnaissance for Ground-Water Seepage

Salinity at Punamano Unit

Salinity at Kii Unit

Previous Salinity Observations

Potential Migration of Wastewater from the Kahuku Injection Wells

Water Budgets for the Punamano and Kii Units

Water-Budget Equations

Required Data

Results of the Water Budgets

Relation of the Budget Period to Long-Term Average Conditions

Water and Sediment Quality

Water and Sediment Sampling and Analysis


Inorganic Chemical Analysis

Inorganic Water Chemistry

Inorganic Sediment Chemistry

Organic Chemical Analysis

Organic and Nutrient Water Chemistry

Organic Sediment Chemistry

Sediment Mineralogy

Comparison of Trace-Element and Organic Compound Concentrations in Water and Bottom Sediment with Water-Quality Guidelines


Pond-Bottom Sediment

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

The complete report is available as an Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file (2,511 Kb).

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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