Frequently Asked Questions on the Ala Wai Problem

First published December 19, 2018
Updated March 23, 2020

How does one start to understand the Ala Wai Canal problem?

To truly understand the Ala Wai Problem, one needs to know what is the Ala Wai Watershed and how stormwater flows through it. The best visual is in the following document. Unfortunately, for those who are not into civil engineering and lengthy technical reports, as there are no shortcuts in the research process, the easiest way to understand the intentions of the US Army Corps of Engineers is to print out the full PDF file and read it.

Flood Predictions for Waikiki: Figure ES-1. US Army Corps of Engineers

US Army Corps of Engineers
Ala Wai Canal Flood Risk Management Study, Oahu, Hawaii
Feasibility Study with Integrated Environmental Impact
Interim Final Report
May 2017, p.1-5.

So if you look at a map of the Ala Wai Watershed, most of its stormwater high up in the mountains drains to Ala Wai Canal, all to exit out the Ala Wai Boat Harbor. Other stormwater in the watershed flows to Kapahulu Avenue.

The dredging problems in the Ala Wai Canal originate upstream in Mānoa, where Albizia trees were planted hundreds of years ago to control erosion due to animal grazing. However, Albizia trees do not absorb much water and soil. Therefore, excessive silt flows into the Ala Wai Canal, as concluded from the five videos which are located on this webpage.

To eliminate the silt and thus dredging of the Ala Wai Canal once and for all, the uphill areas in Mānoa would be cleared of invasive species, such as the Albizia trees, and specific areas would go under conservation protection.

Does the Ala Wai Watershed extend from mountain ridge to mountain ridge?

Technically, no, as there are parts of the Ala Wai Watershed that extend beyond a ridgeline and into another valley.

Who are the stakeholders?

Below are the various prospective stakeholders or agencies. Because the current jurisdictional arrangement does not allow the Ala Wai problem to be solved, it is recommended a separate jurisdiction or overlay district be created to tackle the issue of the Ala Wai Canal.

Do you mean that both the water and land need to be considered together?

From a jurisdictional standpoint, yes! For example, the State of Hawaii, the City and County of Honolulu, and the United States Federal Government own or manages different parcels of land. There are too many jurisdictions, and so there is no jurisdiction whose goal is to fix the vegetation issues and built environment issues of Ala Wai Canal.

Why are there different associations related to the Ala Wai Canal and Watershed?

Here are the groups associated with the Ala Wai Watershed:

  • Ala Wai Watershed Association cleans upstream, especially the Mānoa stream.
  • Ala Wai Watershed Partnership promotes commerce.
  • Trust for Public Land transfers land to become public land.
  • University of Hawaii Center for Conservation Research & Training promotes conservation in the Ala Wai Watershed.
  • State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources maintains natural elements, such as forests, as well as regulates boating, wildlife, public hunting and fishing.
  • US Army Corps of Engineers controls and mitigates flooding mainly through concrete structures.
  • Hawaii Green Growth Global Island Partnership creates networks to support the growth of local food.


Do you have a design for the Ala Wai?

Yes, there are three distinct parts of the proposed solution, which I have developed a plan to solve the problem of the Ala Wai once and for all.

Define the Work

One is the scope of work as defined in the Ala Wai Watershed Special Resource Study Report, February 15, 2017, as we can’t solve a problem if we don’t define it. Therefore, the “Ala Wai Watershed Special Resource Study Report” defines the problem, which is a huge issue for those who maintain it, those who visit it and those who interact with it.  Furthermore, the report turns a liability into a huge opportunity!

Determine What Will Be Built

The second is the bricks and mortar design which is represented and expressed and brought to life in the “Ho’okuleana Design” ©2016, 2017.

Determine the Legal Entities

Lastly is the legal or jurisdictional along with the politics. One important part is community outreach.  Another part is who or what organization or agency would adequately and successfully maintain what will be built? In this respect, I suggest the approach of the “Friends of Waikīkī National Recreation Area.”

Almost every single link I have in the accompanying blogs, reports, videos, and websites makes a case to support my reasoning above. It is my hope you will review my online presentation as much as you can.  I look forward to your input. Mahalo!

Emy Louie
May 5, 2020

What is the primary goal of the “Ala Wai Watershed Resource Study Report” and the “Ho’okuleana Design”?

To solve the problems of the above-mentioned stakeholders, the top three goals of the Ala Wai Watershed Special Resource Study Report and the Ho’okuleana Design c2016, 2017, as related to the Ala Wai, include the following:

  • Conserve lands in the Ala Wai Watershed
  • Save Waikiki properties from the detrimental effects of the rising seas
  • Protect Waikiki from hazardous flooding that trigger emergency services

Related Links:

Ho’okuleana Design ©2016, 2017

Friends of Waikīkī National Recreation Area

Links That May Interest You:

The Academic System Will Not Instill In You This Attribute


A Chinese American, Emy Louie (雷慧妮) was born in Hong Kong and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i. She graduated from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in 1991 and earned a degree in Architecture.

In 1993, Ms. Louie relocated to the mainland United States and from 2007 to 2012, she hosted her radio show to interview the movers and shakers of sustainable design and green building and taught continuing education classes to design professionals.

She is author of “2021 Concise Budget Traveler’s Guide to Playa del Carmen, Mexico,” and president of Emy Louie, Consulting Services, which works on design, conservation, and environmental projects. Since 2018, Ms. Louie spends her time in Honolulu and Central America to do environmental field research.

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