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U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5229

Prepared in cooperation with the State of Hawai‘i Department of Health

Ecological Assessment of Wadeable Streams on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, 2006–2007; A Pilot Study

By Reuben H. Wolff and Linda A. Koch


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In 2006–07, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Pacific Islands Water Science Center (PIWSC), in cooperation with the Hawai‘i Department of Health (HDOH), conducted a pilot study as a participant in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) Wadeable Streams Assessment (WSA) program. Forty randomly selected sites on perennial streams on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, were surveyed for habitat characteristics, water chemistry, and benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages. Of the original sampling frame of approximately 505.2 miles of perennial stream, roughly 96.7±30.7 miles were found to be nonperennial or estuarine and another 200.5±64.7 miles were judged to be inaccessible. The scope of this report presents an assessment of the remaining 208±57.6 miles of accessible, wadeable, perennial stream length on O‘ahu.

Benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages were used to determine the ecological condition at each site. Components of the benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages were assessed using the multimetric Preliminary–Hawaiian Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity (P–HBIBI) developed by Wolff (2005). Based on the P–HBIBI scores, an estimated 5.8±5.8 percent of the island’s total stream length is in most disturbed condition, 56±13.5 percent is in intermediately disturbed condition, and 38.2±13.2 percent is in least disturbed condition. Windward O‘ahu had the highest percentage of stream length in least disturbed biological condition at 56.7±20.8 percent. Using the relative abundance of insects, one of the core metrics that make up the P–HBIBI, 43.4±14.2 percent of the islandwide stream length was classified in the most disturbed condition—52±31.2 percent of the Honolulu region stream length and 51.4±23.3 percent of the windward O‘ahu stream length.

An analysis of total nitrogen (N) estimated approximately 41.1±13.7 percent of the stream length on O‘ahu was in most disturbed condition. Regionally, the Honolulu region had the largest proportion, 61.3±28.6 percent, of most disturbed stream length in terms of total N. An analysis of total phosphorus (P) classified approximately 43.2±14 percent of the stream length on O‘ahu as most disturbed. Regionally, windward O‘ahu had the largest proportion, 78.4±19.5 percent, of stream length classified as most disturbed. An analysis of embeddedness classified 30.3±14.7 percent of O‘ahu’s stream length as most. Regionally, windward O‘ahu had the largest proportion, 43.3±17.1 percent, of stream length classified as most disturbed as compared to the reference condition. An analysis of riparian disturbance, an index of the in-channel, riparian, and near-stream human activities, classified 43±13 percent of stream length on O‘ahu as most disturbed. The Honolulu region had the largest proportion of stream length, 86.3±13.7 percent, classified as most disturbed.

The information in this report is the first attempt in Hawai‘i to assess the islandwide ecological condition of wadeable, perennial streams on O‘ahu using the USEPA WSA probabilistic design. This study has demonstrated that such an assessment is practical and that it can provide information that may help the USEPA and HDOH in determining the status of aquatic ecosystems on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. This study provides a baseline assessment of the current islandwide ecological condition and identifies potential environmental stressors. It can be used, with future WSA studies in Hawai‘i, to measure the changes in those conditions and the effectiveness of management efforts to protect, restore, and maintain Hawai‘i’s aquatic environment.

  • This report is available only on the Web.

For additional information contact:
Center Director, Pacific Islands Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
677 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 415
Honolulu, HI 96813

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Suggested citation:

Wolff, R.H., and Koch, L.A., 2009, Ecological assessment of wadeable streams on O'ahu, Hawai'i, 2006-2007; a pilot study: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5229, 83 p.


Executive Summary



Description of the Study Area

Site Selection

Geospatial Methods

Reference Condition

Field Methods

Extent Calculations

Cumulative Distribution Functions


Needs for Additional Information

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited


Appendixes A–D

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