Hawaii is "on the verge of catastrophe," locals say, as water crisis continues

In Hawaii, one of the most important sayings is ola i ka wai, "water is life" — a phrase that not only sums up what it means to exist on an island, but what it means to live, period. But now, one of the largest of the island chain's land masses is facing a triple threat to its sole freshwater source, and if it isn't addressed soon, one community member says, "we're in deep trouble."

Despite being surrounded by seemingly endless ocean, freshwater on Oahu, the third-largest of Hawaii's six major islands, is not easily accessible. The island relies on an underground aquifer for its water supply. Replenishing that aquifer is a decades-long natural process, as it takes a single drop of water roughly 25 years to make it there from the sky. 

And recent years have seen compounding problems: less rain, leading to significant droughts, and repeated jet fuel leaks and PFAS chemical spills contaminating water systems. All of this significantly limits available water use for locals, many of whom say tourism is only worsening the situation. Just months ago, the world's largest surfing wave pool opened up on the island — filled with freshwater.