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Waters of Mauna Kea - summit to sea

What often happens in the summits of Mauna Kea will affect everything that happens below, all the way to the coastline, including our oceans.

This is how we really like to manage resources, manage them as a whole.

Julie A. K. Leialoha
natural area specialist, biologist

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Only three continuous channels of intermittent streams lead down from elevations above 12,000 feet, Pohakuloa and Waikahalulu gulches on the southwest and Ka‘ula Gulch on the northeast. Headwaters of the Wailuku River flow intermittently from about 11,000 feet on the east-southeast side, and several intermittent streams drain to the coast from about 12,000 feet on the northeast and north.

General Features and Glacial Geology of Mauna Kea, Hawaii
by Herbert Gregory and Chester Wentworth
Bulletin of the Geological Society of America
Vol. 48, 1937

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When the rain comes in and the clouds come in, it's Mauna Kea who catches them. And so we have water. We have water for our plants that grow down below for the wao akua, the wao mau kele, the wao nahele, the wao kanaka, and if they have water, we have medicine.

Pualani Kanahele
kumu hulu (hula master) and educator

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You got a lot of water coming through the mountain and come out in the ocean. Sometime you see in the ocean, get lot of bubbles coming up. That is fresh water that’s coming from the mountain. And even go underneath there, you drink where the water is shooting out, you taste. It’s fresh water. It’s sweet water. And it feeds all the people.

Aka Mike`ele Mahi

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I’m a hunter of the wild pig. I love to chase the wild pigs in the forest. So I see the kumu wai, I see where the water bubbles right out of the ground in the forest, deep in the forest, five hours walk up. Yet above that, you see no flowing water. So from the very top of the mountain, the water bleeds down and feeds the forest, where it bubbles out of the ground. We call them punawai, where the water starts.

Everett Franco

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In an effort to reveal the island's past, researchers are in the process of drilling two miles down into the earth near Hilo on Hawai’i island and analyzing rock and other materials that are brought up from the depths. The well has revealed fresh water mixed with lava flows as much as 6,500 feet below the surface.

Scientists believe a huge river of fresh water enters the ocean from below sea-level on Hawai‘i island's east coast.

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Contaminating the water source?

Kyle Kinoshita: I’d like to say that astronomy is a clean and non-polluting industry.

Kevin Ho: It does not pollute the air, the streams or the oceans.

Riley Smith: There are minimal environmental impacts.

testimony at public meeting on Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan
May 1999

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Even though astronomy, by most standards, is considered a clean industry, it’s not without toxicity. The majority of the telescopes use quite a bit of hazardous materials. One hazardous material that we are particularly concerned about is the use of elemental mercury. We discovered that mercury was being used in quite large quantities. In one particular case, a telescope had already had three mercury spills.

The reportable quantities for mercury, according to the Health Department, is one pound. And one telescope alone uses 30 pounds. And that’s a small amount. Large monolithic telescopes use quite a bit of mercury. In one case, there’s one telescope I know uses 650 pounds of mercury.

Perhaps we’ve reached our limit of the amount of hazardous materials that can be brought up here.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou

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Nelson Ho, Sierra Club: There are three incidents involving mercury that you have before you. I would like to draw your attention to number two. And what is the date of that mercury spill?

Fred Chaffee, W.M. Keck Observatory: November 6, 1995

Nelson Ho, Sierra Club: And you had reported that two mercury spills did occur at the Keck facilities, is that correct?

Fred Chaffee: That is correct.

Contested case hearing on the University of Hawai’i’s
Conservation District Use Application

for the Keck Outriggers Telescope Project

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Carol Nervig: And the other thing I was really concerned about was hearing about 30 pounds of mercury on the mountain and that there have already been two spills. And I wonder why that’s never been in our newspaper.

Ken Kumor [NASA]: As far as we know, there have been no spills up there since 1995. And they were all completely cleaned up.

Town meeting on the Keck Outriggers Telescope Project
convened by NASA
October 3, 2001

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Other things are used up here as well: diesel, ethylene glycol, in quite large quantities. So these are not trivial things when you’re talking about operating on top of an aquifer, and the principle aquifer for Hawai‘i island.

I mean using toxic materials doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to enter into the earth. But we want to make sure that they are not because, at this point, we don’t have anyone else who’s asking these questions.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou

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Historically, when the mirrors were cleaned, the solutions, the chemicals that were used to clean, that was basically put into the septic system and that was the way of disposal. The observatory, if they haven’t already done so, in the very near future is going to be collecting all of those cleaning fluids after they’re used and they’re going to be trucking them off down the mountain so they will no longer get into the septic system.

Ken Kumor, NASA
Town meeting on the Keck Outriggers Telescope Project
convened by NASA
October 3, 2001

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The other concern was sewage. They use septic tanks, cesspools, leach fields. It means human waste is being entered into the ground with probably very little treatment. That is a concern and it should be a concern for everyone in Hawai‘i because it’s our aquifer.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou

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So we're talking about raw wastewater into the ground, around 50,000 gallons a month. Let's just say half million gallons in a year. And the idea that this wastewater would be placed in the ground in a place of this obvious historic and archaeological and cultural significance is beyond me. I just can't imagine it.

Brad Finney
Environmental Engineer
Contested case hearing on the University of Hawai’i’s
Conservation District Use Application
for the Keck Outriggers Telescope Project

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There is no plan to construct a sewer system to collect and treat wastewater from each facility. Where is it going to go? Huh? Desecrate the land!

Ellen Curry
testimony at public meeting on Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan
May 1999

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Our principle concern comes down to the same question, that Mauna Kea is an aquifer. Everything rolls down to the bottom, the percolation rate twenty inches per hour. The principle threat is that there has not been enough monitoring for over 30 years to determine if the human waste or hazardous materials used at the observatories have actually impacted the water.

Kealoha Pisciotta
Mauna Kea Anaina Hou

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These things are going into a sacred temple.

And it just blows me away that, with all the other technology that we seem to say we're so proud of on the mountain, that we have not used the simplest technology in the world to take care of the most precious place.

Ali’i ‘Aimoku Ali’i Sir Paul K. Neves
Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Moku o Mamalahoa, Heiau Helu Elua

Contested case hearing on the University of Hawai’i’s
Conservation District Use Application
for the Keck Outriggers Telescope Project

 

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