Thursday, June 17, 1999

By Gary T. Kubota, Star-Bulletin
Sumner Erdman of Ulupalakua Ranch estimated that the cattle
operation stands to lose up to $500,000 in the next three to five
years as a result of the drought conditions on Maui.

Ranches, farms hurt by drought

By Gary T. Kubota


ULUPALAKUA, Maui -- Ranchers and farmers in Kula and Ulupalakua are reducing their herds and crops to cope with one of the worst droughts in recent memory.

They also are bracing for mandatory reduction in water consumption scheduled to take effect in about a month.

County water Director David Craddick yesterday declared a drought warning, requiring a 10 percent reduction in water consumption by residents living in areas from Kanaio to Haiku.

Craddick said ranchers and farmers are being given a 30-day reprieve on the reduction, unless the drought worsens and forces his department to impose a 25 percent reduction.

Water storage levels have been dropping, as little or no rain has fallen in the past two months.

The Wailoa ditch, which captures stream water along east Maui and sends it to dry areas, is flowing at barely a quarter of its capacity, water officials say.

The National Weather Service says from January through May, rainfall in the Upcountry area has generally ranged from 40 percent to 60 percent of the average for this period of the year.

Kevin Kodama, a Weather Service hydrologist, said places such as Ulupalakua are usually dry but have been particularly dry, experiencing only about 20 percent to 30 percent of the rainfall for the average season.

Ulupalakua Ranch official Sumner Erdman said the drought has been the worst in its 75-year history of recording rainfall.

Erdman said the ranch, which manages about 23,000 acres, received about 10.85 inches of rain in 1998 and there has been no rainfall this month.

Erdman said he hopes county water officials will consider giving more of a reprieve to tree farmers and cattle ranchers because cutting their water supply has a longer-lasting impact on their production.

Erdman plans to sell 124 heifers because of poor pasture land -- heifers that would normally be introduced to restock his herd.

He estimates the drought will cost the ranch about $350,000 to $500,000 in the next three to five years.

Meanwhile in Kula, farmer Ward Murashige said he's reduced his head cabbage crop by 25 percent because of the drought.

Both Erdman and Murashige said the drought this year is worse than the dry spell last year.

"It's kind of spooky this year," Murashige said.

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