SOEST student prepares to protect Hawai‘i’s water resources, give back

“Almost all of Hawai‘i’s drinking water is sourced from groundwater so it’s extremely important to me to maintain its quality for future generations,” replied University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa undergraduate student Brandon Dela Cruz when asked what his plans are for the future.

Dela Cruz’s focus on preserving this precious natural resource has been a touchstone in his academic journey through the Global Environmental Sciences (GES) degree program in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST).

Born and raised on O‘ahu, Dela Cruz attended Leeward Community College (LCC) while working part-time to pay for college. There, he met LCC oceanography professor Donn Viviani, who became a wonderful mentor. 

“Dr. Viviani is a great person to talk to, always wants to see students succeed, and consistently shares opportunities for scholarships and internships,” said Dela Cruz. 

Dela Cruz was further motivated to pursue a degree in SOEST after meeting several alumni and hearing about the opportunities available to them as students and the careers they chose after graduation.

For his GES senior thesis research project, Dela Cruz has been analyzing distribution patterns of bacterial pathogens in a wetland environment under the mentorship of SOEST Earth Sciences professor Henrietta Dulai. With additional guidance from two other amazing mentors, Kapi‘olani Community College professor Makenzie Manning and SOEST doctoral student Ku‘i Keliipuleole, Dela Cruz’s research is focused on Sumida Farms, a freshwater spring farm that grows the bulk of Hawaiʻi’s watercress. This SOEST-Sumida partnership, including the stipends that Dela Cruz and his fellow student researchers receive, is funded through a National Science Foundation award designed to establish geoscience pathways (NSF/GEO #2022937; Barbara Bruno, PI).

“Although the springs are the main source of nourishment for the farm, during heavy rain the runoff travels into the farm carrying pollutants from the nearby urban infrastructure,” said Dela Cruz. “This work has made me more aware of the potential implications of any water entering the city’s municipal storm sewer system (MS4) and strengthened my overall goal to protect Hawaiʻi’s clean water.”

“Working with inspiring mentors and bright teammates has been a huge motivation for me to work hard in different aspects of my research and academic career,” he added. “Also, growing up in Hawai’i, the Sumida Farm is an iconic location planted in the middle of Oʻahu with rich history and a focus towards Hawai’i’s initiative for sustainability and food security.”

This past summer, Dela Cruz was offered an internship with the City & County of Honolulu’s Storm Water Quality Division which is tasked with protecting Hawaiʻi’s clean water and subsequently the vitality of diverse ecosystems. Efforts to sustain Hawai‘i’s clean water and minimize pollutants include educating the public, ensuring compliance with state and federal laws, and investigating possible infractions that jeopardize this resource.

“As an intern, I was exposed to many of the tasks that go into supporting the City and County’s Storm Water Management Program Plan,” said Dela Cruz. “In the field, I helped gather data related to investigations and inspections, including inspecting city-owned infrastructure for any damages, unusual storm water flow, street sweeping analysis, and stream water collection. On the outreach side, I got to help with public education to inform communities about keeping the stream channels clear and to encourage keeping our streets clear.”

One of the major projects Dela Cruz worked on used various GIS tools to compile stream monitoring data and design an ArcGIS StoryMap template for public education. In addition, the stream monitoring StoryMap will be used to analyze potential hotspots where revisions in the Storm Water Management Program Plan might be necessary. 

“Working with the city taught me a lot about stormwater and its contribution to the hydrologic cycle,” said Dela Cruz. “This was really important to me because clean water is required for sustaining life across Earth.”

After his anticipated graduation in May 2023, Dela Cruz hopes to secure a job as an environmental scientist and pursue a graduate degree in hydrogeology.

“It would be an amazing chance for me to grow and give back to my home,” he said.

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