Ground water is one of Hawaii's most important natural resources. It is used for drinking water, irrigation, and domestic, commercial, and industrial needs. Ground water provides about 99 percent of Hawaii's domestic water and about 50 percent of all freshwater used in the State. Total ground water pumped in Hawaii was about 500 million gallons per day during 1995, which is less than 3 percent of the average total rainfall (about 21 billion gallons per day) in Hawaii. From this perspective, the ground-water resource appears ample; however, much of the rainfall runs off to the ocean in streams or returns to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration. Furthermore, ground-water resources can be limited because of water-quality, environmental, or economic concerns.
Water beneath the ground surface occurs in two principal zones: the unsaturated zone and the saturated zone. In the unsaturated zone, the pore spaces in rocks contain both air and water, whereas in the saturated zone, the pore spaces are filled with water. The upper surface of the saturated zone is referred to as the water table. Water below the water table is referred to as ground water. Ground-water salinity can range from freshwater to that of seawater. Freshwater is commonly considered to be water with a chloride concentration less than 250 mg/L, and this concentration represents about 1.3 percent of the chloride concentration of seawater (19,500 mg/L). Brackish water has a chloride concentration between that of freshwater (250 mg/L) and saltwater (19,500 mg/L).