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Navy partners with Hawaii to improve Waiawa Watershed

06 September 2022

From Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gregory Hall, Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii - Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH), in partnership with the State of Hawaii, were the recipients of a $14,881,880 grant from the Department of Defense (DoD) through the DoD Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program (REPI) Challenge Program.
The grant funds a project to improve 7,155 acres of upland forests in the Waiawa Watershed, which, according to Susie Fong, JBPHH REPI program manager, will help lead to the sustainability of Oahu’s only aquifer. 

“The project will protect and restore the native upland forests which are home to the island’s watersheds and aquifers,” said Fong. “The State of Hawaii and the Navy have been working on this collaborative effort for a couple of years, and we have been fine tuning the project and the scope of work to align with State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) goals of natural resource management and the Navy’s goals of long-term mission sustainment and operations.”

The REPI program is a key tool for combating encroachment that can limit or restrict military training, testing, and operations. While REPI’s primary mission is to protect military readiness, REPI also benefits the environment by conserving land near military installations and ranges.

“The focus of the project is to safeguard drinking water supplies at JBPHH by protecting and restoring 7,155 acres of forested lands that replenish the Pearl Harbor aquifer,” said Katie Roth, a planner with the Commission on Water Resource Management, a division of the State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. “These native forests are the source of drinking water for Navy personnel at JBPHH and provide a buffer from major storm events that cause erosion and flooding.”

Roth said that there are numerous conservation organizations participating in the Waiawa Watershed restoration including the State of Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the University of Hawaii, Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit, Koolau Mountains Watershed Partnership, the Oahu Invasive Species Committee and the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Response Hawaii organization. 

“Allying Joint Base with our neighbors is vitally important to our success as an installation,” said Capt. Mark Sohaney, commander of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. “We depend on these local communities for support, and look for ways that we can provide support in return. The REPI challenge program is an exciting way to directly impact our surrounding environment and create change that will have a lasting effect.”

Safeguarding the Pearl Harbor water supply is the desired result of the program, but there are several challenges that must be overcome.

“The watershed is currently being destroyed by the presence of large amounts of ungulates (feral pigs),” said Fong. “Project restoration of these forests through removal of invasive plants and ungulates as well as out planting of native species will provide for a healthier watershed that can more effectively recharge the aquifer and capture the groundwater.” 

Roth added that the long-term focus of the project has been broken down into short-term goals to help restore the Waiawa Watershed with native plant species. The projects will be worked on concurrently with a performance period of five years. 

Those projects include:
  • Constructing a 1,400-acre fence and removing feral pigs from the fenced area.
  • Expanding the acres of invasive plant control into adjacent watersheds.
  • Restoring areas with common, threatened and endangered native species.
  • Constructing three ungulate-proof fences in the Waiau, Halawa, and Moanalua watersheds.
  • Collecting aerial imagery and developing artificial-intelligence methods to detect, monitor and control invasive plants.
  • Controlling the spread of the invasive Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle.
  • Baseyard, or facility, improvements and facility upgrades needed for project implementation.
Securing sustainable sources of water is critical for people living on the world’s most isolated archipelago. Contributing to the viability of one of those sources of water directly impacts mission success.

“Oahu’s native forests allow rainfall and mist to be captured and slowly infiltrate into the ground and replenish streams,” said Roth. “Protection of the forests above Joint Base guarantees there will be water in the future, not just for the installation but also surrounding communities that rely on drinking water from the Honolulu Board of Water Supply and the perpetuation of traditional and customary practices that may rely on ground and surface water.”  
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