It’s a familiar refrain as we slog through the hot, dry months: Maui is in a drought. Parts of South and Central Maui were elevated to “exceptional drought,” the National Weather Service’s highest designation. Most of the rest of the county and state is somewhere between “extreme” and “severe.”
How much of this is due to climate change? The short answer is “a lot.”
According to the Hawai‘i Climate Commission, “Rainfall has declined significantly over the past 30 years, with widely varying rainfall patterns on each island. This means some areas are flooding and others are too dry. Since 2008, overall, the islands have been drier, and when it does finally rain, it rains a lot.”
When it comes to water, in other words, it’s feast or famine. Parched or drowning.
About 80 percent of Maui’s potable water comes from the Na Wai Eha watershed, the “Four Great Waters” of Waikapū, Wailuku, Waiehu, and Waiheʻe. But rainfall has been on a steady decline in the region, depleting the aquifer. Overuse of water by plantations and, subsequently, mega-resorts have also played a part. We’re careening toward a tipping point.
As the Climate Commission ominously warns, “As populations increase across islands, economic instability, a crippled municipal water system, degrading agriculture, and decreased tourism caused by ecosystem loss could become serious threats to our well being.”