Parched isles draw federal attention
Eligible farmers can obtain loans from the federal government at a low interest rate
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The state has been declared a disaster area because of the drought that has shriveled up crops and killed livestock.
U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka announced that farmers who have been seriously affected by the lack of rainfall will be eligible for low-cost loans from the U.S. Farm Service Agency.
Rainfall totals through the first half of the year were well below normal, according to the National Weather Service.
Farmers and ranchers from the Big Island to Kauai have been losing crops and animals because of the lack of rain, they said yesterday.
Climate officials have predicted a drier-than-normal summer and fall.
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Hawaii's four main counties have been declared federal disaster areas because of the ongoing drought, officials with U.S Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka announced yesterday.
The declaration, apparently the first such declaration ever for a drought in Hawaii, comes as farmers across the state have stopped planting or have struggled to find water to keep their crops going through the dry summer season.
"Our local farmers are hurting," Inouye said in a news release. "The emergency low-interest loans that will now be available can be a lifeline for Hawaii farmers."
Eligible farmers will be able to seek low-interest loans up to $500,000 from the U.S. Farm Service Agency to offset drought-related crop losses, officials said.
Hawaii, Kauai, Honolulu and Maui counties have all been declared disaster areas, officials said.
Farmers across the state say the dry weather and water restrictions from Kauai to the Big Island have killed some crops and livestock and made life difficult for ranchers as well.
However, recent tradewind rain "certainly has helped stabilize the situation," said National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Kodama. But "nobody is out of the woods yet."
Water levels across the state remain very low after a dry winter and spring. Only four water gauges -- out of the 102 stations statewide -- were above 90 percent of normal for the year as of June 30, according to weather service data.
The future does not look bright either. Climate experts at the weather service have predicted rainfall for the rest of the summer and fall to be below normal as well, Kodama added.
"Our local farmers are hurting. The emergency low-interest loans that will now be available can be a lifeline for Hawaii farmers."
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye
Ranchers in the Kau District and portions of the South Kona District on the Big Island have told federal officials that pasture conditions have been affecting livestock.
Kahua Ranch, where rainfall totals were below 20 percent of normal for the year, had its driest June on record with 0.04 inches of rain recorded.
Moderate drought has been recorded across Central and Upcountry Maui, where recent rainfall has stabilized the rapid removal of water from water systems there.
However, the ditch flows from East Maui that provide water up the Upcountry region have been the lowest since records were kept in 1925, said Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. General Manager Frank Kiger.
Kiger said the sugar plantation, with 34,000 cultivable acres, has lost 2 1/2 months' worth of growth and at least tens of thousands of dollars. He said some 1,700 acres have not been replanted because of the lack of rain.
On Oahu, Waimanalo Reservoir users have been required to reduce water use by 30 percent.
Kodama said yesterday that the reservoir has remained under 20 feet, considered the level of extreme drought, for months, despite recent rain.
On Kauai, some farmers wish they were under water restrictions.
Farmers who used Ka Loko Reservoir have been without water and unable to irrigate. Last month, when some farmers tried to use county water systems in East Kilauea, water tank levels became so low all users were asked to conserve.
On the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island north of Hilo, rancher Raymond Lorenzo said the fact that a federal disaster declaration will allow him to receive low-interest loans does not help much. "I have enough bills as it is," he said.
Lorenzo lost 187 cattle to starvation last year and 50 more this year. He is down to 850 head from the 1,200 he started with when the drought began in March 2007.
The situation is "bad, bad, bad," he said.
Jill Mattos, who runs a meatpacking plant in Hamakua, says about a third of the cattle that come in are in poor shape. They are about 40 percent meat, whereas beef cattle are normally 70 percent meat, she said.
Star-Bulletin reporters Rod Thompson and Gary T. Kubota contributed to this report.