The Return of Waiola Spring

Who says “you can’t go back”? The return of water to Nā Wai ‘Ehā proved that wrong, and the story of Waiola Spring is a classic example.

Duke Sevilla at Waiola Spring

Waiola (“Water of Life”) is the name of a legendary spring in Paukūkalo, the coastal region between the mouths of Wailuku River and Waiehu Stream, on the shores of Kaehu Bay. The spring is said to be home to a “mo‘o wahine” water goddess and to have spiritual healing power.

The spring is on the family land of Duke Sevilla, a charter member of Hui o Nā Wai ‘Ehā. Duke remembers when he was a young boy, kupuna (elders) would come visit to heal in the sacred water. The water was so deep, you could submerge in the pond.

Aged image of children swimming in freshwater pool

Waiola Spring in the old days

Then in the 1970s, as more and more stream and groundwater was taken from Nā Wai ‘Ehā and some of the lower Wailuku River was covered with concrete, the spring dried up. When the Hui began their battle in 2004 to restore streamflows to Nā Wai ‘Ehā, the spring had been completely dry for years, an unrecognizable dip in his yard.

At the legal trial, Duke testified that, if flows were returned to Wailuku River, then Waiola would flow again. He wasn’t a scientist, but based on his lifetime of experience, he knew. The other side, though, argued that because of the channelization of the river, restoring stream flows would be worthless.

Grass and bushes grow where there once was a pond

Waiola dried up

Lush forest with freshwater pond in foreground

Waiola returns!

When continual flows returned to Wailuku River in 2014, the ground became moist and began filling up. Within a couple of months, Waiola returned to life and flowed to the ocean again.

Waiola Spring came back, proving that “you can go back”—not to the past, but to the future.

Together, we can restore Hawai‘i’s waterways.

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