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Hanalei Watershed Flood Study and Solution Evaluation

The Hanalei Watershed Flood Study and Solution Evaluation project is designed to provide information to the Hanalei community to determine the best actions to reduce flooding impacts in the Hanalei Basin. The Hanalei Watershed Hui, along with our project partner Sustainable Resources Group Intn’l, Inc., is conducting a flood study, using hydraulic and hydrologic modeling, to show the areas and depth of water that covers the land during various flow levels in the Hanalei and Wai'oli Rivers. The model uses highly accurate topographic maps that show all waterways (i.e. ditches, ‘auwai, streams, rivers, and ponds). Modeling will demonstrate, for the same flows, how strategies such as clearing hau bush or installing water holding basins on the floodplains, change the area of water cover and depths. Modeling will inform a prioritized list of recommendations to minimize flooding.

Project Goal

The goal of this project is to evaluate solutions to reduce the impacts of flooding in the Hanalei basin. The evaluation will be informed by science-based modeling of the movement of flood waters in Hanalei and community engagement to identify issues and assess potential solutions. The outcome will be a prioritized list of recommended mitigation measures to reduce damage and economic impacts caused by flooding.

Survey Methodology
  • Aerial and ground-based topographic and bathymetric surveys will be used to develop spatially accurate, high-resolution Digital Elevation Models (DEM).

  • Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fitted with LiDAR sensor will acquire accurate topography data.

  • Ground-based surveys using survey grade GPS will be conducted in areas of dense vegetation and for features of special importance.

  • Bathymetric data will be collected using narrow beam acoustic Doppler sonar and survey grade GPS mounted to a remotely operated unmanned water vehicle.

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Remotely operated Acoustic Doppler Sonar system,
used to conduct bathymetric survey.

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LiDAR Air Targets,
aid in collecting topography and high-resolution air images.

Once the topographic and bathymetric data is collected, innovative, scenario-based hydrologic and hydraulic modeling will evaluate effects of mitigation strategies on reducing the impacts of flooding in the Hanalei Basin. Modeling will assess whether changes (e.g. topographical, invasive vegetation, wetland alteration) adversely affect flow conveyance and flood water hydrodynamics and increase duration of flood waters in the Hanalei and Wai'oli Rivers. Various scenarios will be employed, solo and in combination, to demonstrate flooding behavior.

The study will consider implementation options including permitting requirements, cost estimates, and maintenance needs. Land ownership along each water body will be identified, and rules, regulations, and responsibilities for maintaining water bodies will be provided to land owners.

Significance of Study
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Flooding along the lowest reaches of the Hanalei River causes significant impacts to the livelihoods of residents, from large disruptions to commerce in Hanalei Town, to the threats of loss of life or property. The frequency of flood events is expected to increase as current climate projections predict increased weather variability.

At times flooding has completely disrupted vehicle travel into and out of Hanalei Town, causing isolation of North Shore communities. During these flood events emergency personnel and evacuation efforts are extremely limited by road access. Developing effective community response during these events is imperative. We aim to facilitate planning and aid response by providing accurate information regarding the flow and direction of flood waters in Hanalei. 

Although flooding has been identified as a hazard, no analysis has been done to evaluate community and government concerns that alterations across the floodway of the Hanalei River are adversely impacting the flood regime, flow conveyance, flood water hydrodynamics; and increasing the onset and duration of flood waters. Nor has there been a robust and system-wide analysis of the flooding regime of the Hanalei River. This has resulted in a piecemeal approach to dealing with problem areas of the river, and a reactionary approach to dealing with the results of flooding on the local community and wetland habitat.


This project will provide information for the community and their leaders to make informed decisions about sustainable solutions to the flooding problem that offer the best outcomes for people, property, infrastructure, and wildlife habitat in the Hanalei area.

This project is a community effort. All experiences and perspectives are valuable. Community engagement is a priority for this project. If you have questions or concerns about this work please share them with our team. 

Get in contact:


Phone: (808) 826-1985

Updates and results of our research will be communicated to the community on our blog.

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