Trends in Streamflow Characteristics at Long-Term Gaging Stations, Hawaii

Scientific Investigations Report 2004-5080

Prepared in cooperation with the State of Hawaii Commission on Water Resource Management, County of Maui Department of Water Supply, and the U.S. Geological Survey Biological Resources Discipline



The surface-water resources of Hawaii have significant cultural, aesthetic, ecologic, and economic importance. Proper management of the surface-water resources of the State requires an understanding of the long- and short-term variability in streamflow characteristics that may occur. The U.S. Geological Survey maintains a network of stream-gaging stations in Hawaii, including a number of stations with long-term streamflow records that can be used to evaluate long-term trends and short-term variability in flow characteristics. The overall objective of this study is to obtain a better understanding of long-term trends and variations in streamflow on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai, where long-term stream-gaging stations exist. This study includes (1) an analysis of long-term trends in flows (both total flow and estimated base flow) at 16 stream-gaging stations, (2) a description of patterns in trends within the State, and (3) discussion of possible regional factors (including rainfall) that are related to the observed trends and variations. Results of this study indicate the following: 1. From 1913 to 2002 base flows generally decreased in streams for which data are available, and this trend is consistent with the long-term downward trend in annual rainfall over much of the State during that period. 2. Monthly mean base flows generally were above the long-term average from 1913 to the early 1940s and below average after the early 1940s to 2002, and this pattern is consistent with the detected downward trends in base flows from 1913 to 2002. 3. Long-term downward trends in base flows of streams may indicate a reduction in ground-water discharge to streams caused by a long-term decrease in ground-water storage and recharge. 4. From 1973 to 2002, trends in streamflow were spatially variable (up in some streams and down in others) and, with a few exceptions, generally were not statistically significant. 5. Short-term variability in streamflow is related to the seasons and to the EL Ni?o-Southern Oscillation phenomenon that may be partly modulated by the phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. 6. At almost all of the long-term stream-gaging stations considered in this study, average total flow (and to a lesser extent average base flow) during the winter months of January to March tended to be low following El Ni?o periods and high following La Ni?a periods, and this tendency was accentuated during positive phases of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. 7. The El Ni?o-Southern Oscillation phenomenon occurs at a relatively short time scale (a few to several years) and appears to be more strongly related to processes controlling rainfall and direct runoff than ground-water storage and base flow. Long-term downward trends in base flows of streams may indicate a reduction in ground-water storage and recharge. Because ground water provides about 99 percent of Hawaii's domestic drinking water, a reduction in ground-water storage and recharge has serious implications for drinking-water availability. In addition, reduction in stream base flows may reduce habitat availability for native stream fauna and water availability for irrigation purposes. Further study is needed to determine (1) whether the downward trends in base flows from 1913 to 2002 will continue or whether the observed pattern is part of a long-term cycle in which base flows may eventually return to levels measured during 1913 to the early 1940s, (2) the physical causes for the detected trends and variations in streamflow, and (3) whether regional climate indicators successfully can be used to predict streamflow trends and variations throughout the State. These needs for future study underscore the importance of maintaining a network of long-term-trend stream-gaging stations in Hawaii.

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Publication type:
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USGS Numbered Series
Trends in Streamflow Characteristics at Long-Term Gaging Stations, Hawaii
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
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Geological Survey (U.S.)
Contributing office(s):
Pacific Islands Water Science Center
vii, 116 p.