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West Maui system will help residents prepare for flooding

By Staff | Jul 27, 2017

The West Maui community is lucky that the Pacific Islands Ocean Observing System (PacIOOS) chose to seek a grant to develop an online system that will provide real-time notifications of hazardous wave-driven flooding and erosion events.

Residents here generally know when a large swell is due to slam West Maui. The new system will factor in variables – such as tides and specific areas prone to flooding during certain swell events – to help coastal property owners get ready.

Instead of watching the local news the night before, when the system is operational, residents and resorts can learn about a potential flooding event six days in advance.

PacIOOS researchers said they chose West Maui for a number of reasons. The region is hit by both north and south swells, it is an important tourism destination, and the West Side is currently vulnerable to wave damage and flooding.

The project summary explains, “West Maui has experienced significant impacts to private property and public infrastructure in recent years. Densely populated areas very close to the shoreline that are exposed to large north swells make this area particularly vulnerable.

“The vulnerability of state and county infrastructure is also a major concern. For instance, Honoapi’ilani Highway on Maui is the only reliable access to the West Side. Significant damage to the highway causes a human life, health and safety issue.”

University of Hawaii scientists are confident coastal flooding events will grow more acute, as their numbers and duration increase due to rising sea level and wave energy expected from climate change.

Ultimately, the goal of this project is to reduce future damages from wave-driven and high sea level events as a result of: 1) Real-time advanced warning to enable mitigation efforts; and 2) Long-range scenario-based statistical assessment of the changing risk.

Once the West Maui system is in place, other areas facing similar problems can strengthen their resilience and help mitigate the impacts of episodic flooding events in the future.