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Friday, February 2, 2001

Desperate Big Island
farmers soon may
get drought relief

By Rod Thompson

HONOKAA, Hawaii -- Help is on the way, perhaps as early as next week, for drought-stricken Big Island farmers who can't get enough water from the crumbling Lower Hamakua Ditch irrigation system.

Under the guidance of Rep. Dwight Takamine, federal and state officials met with farmers last night to outline emergency and long term plans to get water.

Some farmers haven't had water for months.

"We are facing an emergency situation," Takamine said. "The bottom line is that help is needed, and desperately."

U.S. Department of Agriculture official Doug Toews said three projects have been identified that could be completed in one or two weeks to increase water flow through the leaky 24-mile system.

The first is replacing sandbags inside a broken tunnel that carries water across a cliff face in Waipio Valley. For $3,000 in sandbags, up to five million gallons of water could be saved daily, Toews said.

Emergency repairs are planned for two of approximately 50 flumes which carry water across gullies once the ditch exits the Waipio tunnel.

Flumes 2 and 3 will be repaired by laying pipeline in the leaking wooden structures. The total cost for the two structures will be $35,000. Another five million gallons per day would be saved there.

The money will come from a $3 million federal appropriation obtained by Sen. Daniel Inouye, mostly intended for long-term repairs.

Federal rules require 25 percent cost-sharing, normally by the state or county government. Walker Sanders of the Hamakua/North Hilo Agricultural Cooperative said the farmers themselves will supply the matching money for the emergency repairs.

The repairs will require a shutdown of the ditch system while they are being done, but there is no schedule yet, Toews said.

For the longer term, $5.2 million in federal funds (including the $3 million from Inouye) and about $4 million in state funds are available, said Dudley Kubo of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Takamine and state Sen. Lorraine Inouye have introduced measures in the current Legislative session seeking another $1.2 million.

That money would be used for permanent repairs to the Waipio Valley tunnel, replacement of nine flumes, replacement of the lining of the Paauilo Reservoir, and creation of a new Honokaia Reservoir.

But the earliest work would begin on those projects would be this summer, and it might not be completed until next year.

Alternative water sources, such as unused wells, might be tapped while work on the major projects is under way, said state agriculture official Paul Matsuo.

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