On the Hawaiian island of Oahu, water is a sensitive issue. Not only is there a history of conflict over this culturally important resource, but Oahu’s rapid development increases human pressure on already scarce water resources and exacerbates environmental issues related to water. Over-development on Oahu, Hawaii’s most developed island, threatens its unique ecosystems, contaminating water resources via runoff and destroying habitats for rare species.
Charles van Rees, a Biology Ph.D. student in the second cohort of Water Diplomacy students, thinks that the creation of artificial wetlands in strategic areas on the island has the potential to ameliorate many of these water crises on Oahu. Among many ecosystem services, a constructed wetland can remove or convert 80-90% of pollutants from the runoff filtering through it, sequester heavy metals, increase infiltration, and provide habitat for endangered waterbirds, whose migratory patterns will be the focus of Charles’s research in biology.
A major challenge for such a project will be determining and weighing the interests of the wide range of stakeholders in order to select a suitable site for an artificial wetland. On an island where water has historically been a contentious issue, there is already tension between the many groups who have a vested interest in this resource. However, this does not need to be a zero-sum game; according to Charles, we can have the “same cake, better party” and create value by finding overlaps in ecological and societal water interests. For example, a constructed wetland is not only useful as a habitat and a filtration system. Wetlands are beautiful, and their construction would create tourist value that appeals to business on Oahu. This mindset is an example of how Water Diplomacy students can establish incentives for cooperation and resolution of complex water resource allocation problems.