UH leads $20 million study on water quality, policy

Photo courtesy Pat McGrath.
Photo courtesy Pat McGrath.
Photo courtesy Pat McGrath.

The National Science Foundation has awarded $20 million to the University of Hawaii to do a five-year, groundbreaking study of water sustainability issues through a collaboration called ‘Ike Wai. UH officials say the project will provide critical data and data models to water resource stakeholders.

Increasing population, changing land use practices and issues relating to climate change are contributing to growing concerns over water quality and quantity in Hawaii.

“Water really is life,” said UH President David Lassner. “What we are doing here is applying the brainpower of the university, the wisdom of cultural practitioners and applying modern scientific techniques of big data, high performance computing and scientific visualization to bring insights that will benefit the people of Hawaii for years to come.”

“This is a large $20-million dollar project with huge economic impact, intellectual impact and community impact across the entire state for the next five years,” Lassner added.

See Also: Hawaii Delegation Announces $20 Million Clean Water Research Grant for University of Hawaii

The project name ‘Ike Wai symbolizes knowledge (‘ike) of water (wai) which informs values, policies and practices for managing this resource.

The ‘Ike Wai program will bring together UH, state and federal agencies and community partners to address critical gaps in the understanding of Hawaii’s water supply that limit decision making, planning and crisis responses. The project spans geophysics, microbiology, cyberinfrastructure, data modeling, indigenous knowledge and economic forecasting and pairs university scientists in partnerships with state and federal agencies and community groups.

“‘Ike Wai will impact every citizen and business in the state, as it gives Hawaii policy makers the ability to make data-driven, community informed decisions about the future of water in Hawaii,” said principal investigator Gwen Jacobs. “This exciting partnership will link cutting edge research directly to community needs to secure a sustainable water future for Hawaii and its neighbors in the Pacific.”

The overall goal of ‘Ike Wai is that new data on groundwater flow, sustainable yield and economic impact will help communities and state decision makers preserve Hawaii’s water resources for the future. ‘Ike Wai also incorporates important educational and cultural goals.

New degree programs at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and new training programs at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa will produce a new generation of big data scientists and data analytics professionals in Hawaii. A collaboration with UH Mānoa’s Hawaiinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge will imbue the ‘Ike Wai project with traditional understandings and values based in Hawaiian water management practices.

“This is a compelling example of how the University of Hawaii is helping Hawaii and the world through our unique strengths and partnerships,” said UH President David Lassner. “It also exemplifies how we synthesize cutting edge research, education and traditional Hawaiian knowledge to address critical community issues, including through the utilization of modern cyberinfrastructure and data science.”

“We recognize there is a lot to learn from our ancestors about their understanding about the water resources.” said Gregory Chun, ‘Ike Wai team leader and Hawaiinuiākea faculty member. “They were extremely adept at observing nature’s cycles and the elements.”

Chun said ‘Ike Wai will inform the state’s water policy and practices with new data and data models as well as the “integration of traditional knowledge and values concerning this most precious of resources.”

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