Skip Links

USGS - science for a changing world

U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5078

A Water-Budget Model and Assessment of Groundwater Recharge for the Island of Hawaiʻi

By John A. Engott

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (24 MB)Abstract

Concern surrounding increasing demand for groundwater on the Island of Hawaiʻi, caused by a growing population and an increasing reliance on groundwater as a source for municipal and private water systems, has prompted a study of groundwater recharge on the island using the most current data and accepted methods. For this study, a daily water-budget model for the entire Island of Hawaiʻi was developed and used to estimate mean recharge for various land-cover and rainfall conditions, and a submodel for the Kona area was developed and used to estimate historical groundwater recharge in the Kona area during the period 1984–2008.

Estimated mean annual recharge on the Island of Hawaiʻi is 6,594 million gallons per day, which is about 49 percent of mean annual rainfall. Recharge is highest on the windward slopes of Mauna Loa, below the tradewind inversion, and lowest on the leeward slopes of Kohala and Mauna Kea. Local recharge maxima also occur on (1) windward Kohala, with the exception of the northern tip, (2) windward Mauna Kea below the tradewind inversion, (3) windward Kīlauea, (4) the middle elevations of southeastern Mauna Loa, and (5) the lower-middle elevations of leeward Mauna Loa and southwestern Hualālai, in the Kona area. Local recharge minima also occur on (1) Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, above the tradewind inversion, (2) the northern tip of Kohala, (3) leeward Kīlauea, (4) the southern tip of Mauna Loa, and (5) the northwestern slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualālai.

In 18 of the 24 aquifer systems on the island, estimated mean annual recharge for baseline conditions was higher than the recharge estimates used in the 2008 State of Hawaiʻi Water Resource Protection Plan (2008 WRPP). Baseline conditions for this study were 2008 land cover and mean annual rainfall from the period 1916–1983. Estimates of recharge for the Māhukona, Waimea, and Hāwī aquifer systems, however, were between 29 and 38 percent lower than the 2008 WRPP estimates, mainly because of much higher evapotranspiration estimates in this study compared to the 2008 WRPP. For the drought simulation (1991–95 rainfall), the estimates of recharge for these three aquifer systems were only 15 to 33 percent of the sustainable yields (maximum allowable pumping rates) set by the 2008 WRPP. This may be cause for concern, as these areas are experiencing a rapid growth in development and a related growth in water demand.

Recent projections of change in rainfall owing to effects of ongoing climate change generally indicate a slight increase in islandwide rainfall, and estimates of annual recharge in the late 21st century are higher than baseline estimates for every aquifer system, except ʻAnaehoʻomalu. On average, these aquifer-system recharge estimates are higher by about 8 percent compared to baseline estimates.

In the Kona area, estimated groundwater recharge during the period 1984–2008 was highest during 2004–8 and lowest during 1999–2003, with the 1999–2003 recharge being about 50 percent of the 2004–8 recharge. These extremes in recharge coincided with the periods of lowest and highest mean rainfall, respectively. No seasonal pattern in recharge is discernible. Spatially, the highest recharge occurred in a belt about 4 miles wide running parallel to the coast about 2 miles inland.

The sensitivity of recharge estimates to input parameters is related to the climate and land-cover conditions of the particular area of study. For the wet, forested areas characteristic of the windward side of the island, recharge was most sensitive to the ratio of runoff to rainfall. For the dry, grassland areas characteristic of the northwestern leeward side of the island, recharge was most sensitive to root depth. For the Kona area, characterized by moderate rainfall and a wide variety of land cover, recharge was most sensitive to the pan coefficient and canopy-evaporation rates in forests.

Last modified September 12, 2011
First posted July 28, 2011

  • 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

This report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Engott, J.A., 2011, A water-budget model and assessment of groundwater recharge for the Island of Hawaiʻi: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5078, 53 p.


Executive Summary



Description of the Island of Hawaiʻi

Water-Budget Model

Model Input

Model Randomness

Groundwater-Recharge Estimates

Suggestions for Future Study and Additional Data Collection

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Contact USGS
Page Last Modified: Thursday, January 10, 2013, 08:08:14 PM