Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2019HI081B

Economic activity, technological progress, and water resource utilization on Oahu

Institute: Hawaii
Year Established: 2019 Start Date: 2019-06-01 End Date: 2020-05-31
Total Federal Funds: $26,213 Total Non-Federal Funds: $72,158

Principal Investigators: Peter Fuleky

Abstract: Water security is often understood as the capacity of a population to safeguard access to water resources in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain livelihoods and socio-economic development (UNESCO, 2012). Globally, more than 600 million people do not have access to clean drinking water and a staggering 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation (EIU, 2017). While the situation is nowhere near such a dire stage in Honolulu, there is growing evidence that available freshwater resources on Oahu have been diminishing over time (Bassiouni and Oki, 2012). How do economic fluctuations and trends affect the demand for water? The answer to this question is complex, uncertain, and depends on location and context. Look for example at the tourism industry, an important component of the local economy, with hotels being among the most water intensive buildings (EPA 2012). On an average day in 2016, about 10% of the island’s population was composed of visitors. While the number of visitors on Oahu keeps breaking new records, inflation adjusted daily spending by visitors has been on the decline and is now 20% below its 2004 peak. The decline in revenues may partly be driven by overall efficiency gains in the tourism sector. But do these efficiency gains extend to resource use? By matching hotel occupancy rates with water consumption over time we will be able to quantify efficiency gains in the use of water resources. Knowing the historical evolution of water demand per visitor will then help us make more accurate predictions about overall water demand as the number of visitors continues to grow in the future. Oahu is Hawaii’s most populated island, and is also the center of the state’s economic activity. Local water management authorities are increasingly looking for improved methods to plan for future water demand. Our proposed project would provide an innovative way to identify the dependency of specific segments of the economy (especially tourism, health care, food, and agriculture) on the state’s limited water resources, estimate efficiency improvements, and forecast future water demand. Our focus on the industry level will enable us to analyze whether efficiency gains can offset the stress on resources by the ever-growing number of visitors to the island, and estimate the impact of demographic trends and a decline in agricultural activity on water demand.