GARY T. KUBOTA / GKUBOTA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Maui farmer Benny Yamamoto said that as a result of the drought, deer have been eating not only his crops but also his irrigation lines.
Drought looms for summer
State officials have asked users in certain regions to reduce their water consumption
A dry summer is expected to follow a drier-than-normal winter and government officials are taking steps to conserve water in leeward areas of the Hawaiian islands.
Farmers and ranchers are especially feeling the pain.
Among the measures being taken:
» Big Island Mayor Harry Kim declared a state of emergency because the lack of rain has dried out forests, hurt crops and depleted water reserves.
» Hawaii County has issued a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water consumption in Waimea and parts of Kawaihae, Paauilo and Ahualoa.
» State farm officials have called for a voluntary cutback of 10 percent in water use for their agricultural systems in Waimanalo and Waimea.
Forecasters do not see much relief in the immediate future.
"You need a lot of steady rain, the kind you can get more frequently in the wintertime," said Tim Craig of the National Weather Service.
KULA, Maui » Standing on a dry dusty path on his Maui farm, Benny Yamamoto points to areas where drought-stricken axis deer have come down from the hills to destroy his onions and tomatoes as well as his water lines.
"They come on the farm every night, eating crops, breaking valves for irrigation," said Yamamoto. "It's been a challenge. ... We haven't had rain in the last 3 1/2 months."
With little rain expected through the summer statewide, government officials are taking steps to conserve water in drought-stricken areas from Ahualoa on the Big Island to Waimanalo on Oahu.
State farm officials have called for a voluntary cutback of 10 percent in water use for their agricultural systems in Waimanalo and in Waimea on the Big Island.
Hawaii County has issued a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water consumption in Waimea and parts of Kawaihae, Paauilo and Ahualoa.
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim has declared a state of emergency because the lack of rain has dried out forests, hurt crops and depleted water reserves.
The arid conditions have raised the risk that runaway brush fires could quickly spread across the volcanic island, Kim said after releasing his emergency proclamation Tuesday.
"We have a very volatile situation out there," Kim said.
Months of sun-parched days have led to bans on outdoor fires, except for rigidly controlled blazes in approved waste burners, fires that have an approved burn plan, or fires for cooking food and heating bath water.
Maui officials are scheduled to meet Tuesday to decide whether to impose restrictions on water consumption in Upcountry areas.
"The scary thing is it's only June," said Maui County water spokeswoman Jacky Takakura.
Takakura said that last year's dry season began in September.
This year, consumption has exceeded water flowing into reservoirs in Upcountry areas, she said.
From May 31 through Wednesday , Upcountry users consumed 9.7 million gallons a day while receiving 7 mgd into their storage facilities.
The Waimea area of Hawaii County is being hurt by the lack of storage facilities, after an earthquake in October damaged two of the three 50 million-gallon reservoirs.
"It really compounds the problem," said Milton Pavao, manager for the Hawaii County Water Department.
Pavao said the repairs are scheduled to be finished by the end of 2008.
He said the Water Department is looking at other ways of providing water, including the use of wells at the Waimea Country Club and a state well.
The National Weather Service said that although there have been some showers in areas of the state, the rainfall has not been enough to reduce the severity of the drought.
"You need a lot of steady rain, the kind you can get more frequently in the wintertime," said Tim Craig, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service.
Craig said there's no indication of any change in the normal dry summer season and that the problem has been made more severe by a dry winter.
Drought conditions tend to be more severe on Maui and the Big Island, where, unlike Oahu, residents rely more heavily on surface water systems, said Kevin Kodama, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service.
Kodama said that although rainfall is below normal on Oahu, the water supply is resilient because it relies on ground water.
Kodama said the leeward areas of the islands are not expected to receive much relief in the next few months.
Several places on the leeward side of Maui County have had less than 20 percent of normal rainfall, compared to Kauai where the decreases have not been major, he said.
Yamamoto, president of the Maui Farmers' Cooperative Exchange, estimates that his crop losses have been between 10 percent and 15 percent and that he's been spending nights chasing deer from his property. "It's been a trying time just to break even," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.