Oahu, the third largest of the Hawaiian islands, is formed by the eroded remnants of two elongated shield volcanoes with broad, low profiles. Weathering and erosion have modified the original domed surfaces of the volcanoes, leaving a landscape of deep valleys and steep interfluvial ridges in the interior highlands. The Koolau Range in eastern Oahu and the Waianae Range in western Oahu are the eroded remnants of the Koolau and Waianae Volcanoes.
The origin, mode of emplacement, texture, and composition of the rocks of Oahu affect their ability to store and transmit water. The volcanic rocks are divided into four groups: (1) lava flows, (2) dikes, (3) pyroclastic deposits, and (4) saprolite and weathered basalt. Stratified sequences of thin-bedded lava flows form the most productive aquifers in Hawaii. Dikes are near-vertical sheets of massive intrusive rock that typically contain only fracture permeability. Pyroclastic deposits include ash, cinder, and spatter; they are essentially granular, with porosity and permeability similar to those of granular sediments. Weathering of basaltic rocks in the humid, subtropical climate of Oahu alters igneous minerals to clays and oxides, reducing the permeability of the parent rock. Saprolite is weathered material that has retained textural features of the parent rock.
Estimates of hydraulic conductivity along the plane of dike-free lava flows tend to fall within about one order of magnitude, from about 500 to about 5,000 feet per day. Estimates of specific yield range from about 1 to 20 percent; most of the values lie within a narrow range of about 5 to 10 percent.
The occurrence of ground water on Oahu is determined by the type and character of the rocks and by the presence of geohydrologic barriers. The primary modes of freshwater occurrence on Oahu are as a basal lens of fresh ground water floating on saltwater, as dike-impounded ground water, and as perched ground water. Saltwater occurs at depth throughout much of the island.
A regional aquifer system composed of the Waianae aquifer in the Waianae Volcanics and the Koolau aquifer in the Koolau Basalt is subdivided into well-defined areas by geohydrologic barriers. The aquifers are separated by the Waianae confining unit formed by weathering along the Waianae-Koolau unconformity. In some coastal areas, a caprock of sedimentary deposits overlies and confines the aquifers.
The island of Oahu has been divided into seven major ground-water areas delineated by deep-seated structural geohydrologic barriers; these areas are further subdivided by shallower internal barriers to ground-water flow. The Koolau rift zone along the eastern (windward) side of the island and the Waianae rift zone to the west (Waianae area) constitute two of the major ground-water areas. North-central Oahu is divided into three smaller ground-water areas, Mokuleia, Waialua, and Kawailoa. The Schofield ground-water area encompasses much of the Schofield Plateau of central Oahu. Southern Oahu is divided into six areas, Ewa, Pearl Harbor, Moanalua, Kalihi, Beretania, and Kaimuki. Southeastern Oahu is divided into the Waialae and Wailupe-Hawaii Kai areas. Along the northeast coast of windward Oahu is the Kahuku ground-water area.
The aquifers of Oahu contain shallow freshwater and deeper saltwater flow systems. There are five fresh ground-water flow systems: meteoric freshwater flow diverges from ground-water divides that lie somewhere within the Waianae and Koolau rift zones, forming an interior flow system in central Oahu (which is divided into the northern and southern Oahu flow systems) and exterior flow systems in western (Waianae area) Oahu, eastern (windward) Oahu, and southeastern Oahu.
Development of the ground-water resources on Oahu began when the first well was drilled near Honouliuli in the summer of 1879. By 1890, 86 wells had been drilled on the island. From about 1891 to about 1910, development increased rapidly with the drilling of a
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Summary of the Oahu, Hawaii, Regional Aquifer-System Analysis