Numerical Simulation of Groundwater Availability in Central Moloka‘i, Hawai‘i

Scientific Investigations Report 2019-5150
Prepared in cooperation with the State of Hawai‘i Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, State of Hawai‘i Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and County of Maui Department of Water Supply
By: , and 



Since the 1990s, increased chloride concentrations of water pumped from wells (much of which is used for drinking water) and the effects of withdrawals on groundwater-dependent ecosystems have led to concerns over groundwater availability on the island of Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi. An improved understanding of the hydrologic effects of proposed groundwater withdrawals is needed to ensure effective management of the groundwater resources of Molokaʻi, plan for possible growth, and accommodate cultural, social, and economic concerns. To address the information needs of managers and community stakeholders on Molokaʻi, the U.S. Geological Survey developed a numerical groundwater model capable of simulating salinity change and reduction in groundwater discharge in coastal areas of central and southern Molokaʻi. Estimates of groundwater recharge needed as input to the numerical groundwater model were made using a daily water budget for each decade during 1940−2012 (the period 2000−12 spanned 13 years) and the most current available data, including the distributions of monthly rainfall and potential evapotranspiration. Total island recharge during the decadal periods ranged from a low of about 189 Mgal/d during the 1970s to a high of 278 Mgal/d during the 1960s. These recharge estimates were used to develop an island-wide numerical groundwater model with simplifying assumptions (sharp interface between freshwater and saltwater; two-dimensional flow). The island-wide model provided estimates of groundwater inflows to the main area of interest simulated with a three-dimensional numerical groundwater model. Simulated withdrawal scenarios were selected in consultation with water managers and stakeholders and consisted of: (1) a baseline scenario using average recharge (1978−2007 rainfall and 2010 land cover) and average 2016−17 withdrawals; (2) a scenario using average recharge and withdrawals from existing wells at pending (as of January 2019) water-use permit rates; (3) six scenarios using average recharge and selected withdrawals from existing and proposed wells; and (4) a scenario using reduced recharge and selected withdrawals from existing and proposed wells. Results of the simulated withdrawal scenarios indicate that wells may be capable of producing groundwater with chloride concentrations below 250 mg/L at withdrawal rates exceeding average 2016−17 rates. However, the quality of water withdrawn from production wells is dependent on the rate and distribution of the withdrawals. For all nonbaseline scenarios, simulated groundwater discharge to the nearshore environment is reduced relative to the baseline scenario. Areas of discharge reduction may correspond to areas used for cultural or subsistence purposes. The three-dimensional numerical groundwater model developed for this study utilizes the latest available hydrologic and geologic information and is a useful tool for understanding the hydrologic effects of additional groundwater withdrawals in central Molokaʻi. The model has several limitations, including its nonuniqueness and inability to account for local-scale heterogeneities.

Suggested Citation

Oki, D.S., Engott, J.A., and Rotzoll, K., 2020, Numerical simulation of groundwater availability in central Moloka‘i, Hawai‘i: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2019–5150, 95 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Description of Study Area
  • Geology
  • Regional Groundwater-Flow System
  • Island-Wide Two-Dimensional Numerical Groundwater-Flow Model
  • Three-Dimensional Numerical Groundwater-Flow and Salinity Model
  • Simulation of Selected Withdrawal Scenarios
  • Limitations
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendixes

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Numerical simulation of groundwater availability in central Moloka‘i, Hawai‘i
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2019-5150
DOI 10.3133/sir20195150
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Pacific Islands Water Science Center
Description Report: ix, 95 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State Hawaii
Other Geospatial Moloka‘i
Online Only (Y/N) Y
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