Effects of land-cover and watershed protection futures on sustainable groundwater management in a heavily utilized aquifer in Hawaiʻi (USA)
Bremer, Leah, Ahmed S. Elshall, Christopher A. Wada, Laura Brewington, Jade M.S. Delevaux, Aly I. El-Kadi, Clifford I. Voss, and Kimberly M. Burnett
Hydrogeology Journal Open Access 29(5):1749–1765, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10040-021-02310-6 (2021)
Groundwater sustainability initiatives, including sustainable yield and watershed policy protection policies, are growing globally in response to increasing demand for groundwater, coupled with concerns about the effects of climate and land-cover change on groundwater supply. Improved understanding of the impacts of watershed management on groundwater yields and management costs—particularly in the broader context of climate and land-cover change—is critical to inform these initiatives and facilitate integrated land and water management. This study develops a novel, spatially explicit groundwater hydrologic ecosystem services framework, which combines stakeholder-defined land-cover scenarios, sustainable yield estimation using a groundwater simulation optimization approach, and economic valuation, and applies it in the most heavily utilized aquifer Hawai‘i (USA). Sustainable yield estimates and resulting differences in replacement costs are estimated for six land-cover scenarios (with varying levels of urban development and watershed management) crossed with two water demand scenarios in a context of a dry future climate (Representative Concentration Pathway [RCP] 8.5 mid-century). Land-cover change is found to be an important, though less significant drive of changes in groundwater recharge than climate change. The degree of watershed protection, through preventing the spread of high-water-use, invasive plant species, is projected to be a much stronger land-cover signal than urban development. Specifically, full forest protection increases sustainable yield by 7–11% (30–45 million liters per day) and substantially decreases treatment costs compared with no forest protection. Collectively, this study demonstrates the hydrologic and economic value of watershed protection in a context of a dry future climate, providing insights for integrated land and water policy and management in Hawai‘i and other regions, particularly where species invasions threaten source watersheds.