Saturday, July 10, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
George Watanabe, whose family owns Gushing Waters Inc.,
shows the effects of drought conditions on the watercress
growing in a field on one of the company's farms on Oahu.

farmers long for
rainy days

Across the state, dry weather
has resulted in water restrictions
and crop reductions

Big Island area is used to drought.

By Treena Shapiro


Dry conditions across the state have forced mandatory water restrictions on the Big Island and Maui, and while Oahu and Kauai have fared slightly better, below-average rainfall has taken its toll.

Water levels were already down last winter when El Nino conditions resulted in more dry weather, followed by a drier-than-average spring, said Chester Lao, supervising hydrologist/geologist for the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.

Less rain doesn't necessarily mean a water shortage. On Oahu, conservation efforts have decreased water use by a couple million gallons a day.

"We're not calling for any mandatory restrictions, and as long as people continue to conserve water, I don't think we anticipate any either," Lao said.

The drop in the water level has created problems for some Oahu farmers. Gushing Waters Inc. is having trouble at its watercress farms in Waipahu and Pearl City.

"The Pearl City one is worse," said George Watanabe, whose family owns the business. "Nothing is coming up at all. We have to recycle water."

"We need water to constantly come out of the artesian wells," Watanabe explained. "Our water level has dropped, so we don't have enough water to flow down the fields. We've had to shut down a well."

John Swim, owner of the Mokuleia Landscape and Nursery Co., uses water from the Board of Water Supply to irrigate 8 acres of plants.

The most obvious change he's seen is a 20 percent increase in his water bill over the past three years, partially as a result of having to keep his sprinklers on during the winter.

"Wintertime is when we usually expect to have a break from that," he said.

The lack of rainfall also calls for an increase in time and labor, since the potted plants now need to be hand-watered.

However, on other parts of the island, farms aren't suffering. Some, like Aloha Farms in Mokuleia, are fully irrigated and don't depend on rainfall.

"We like it dry," said Michele Kaneshiro, an Aloha Farms controller. "Then we can control the amount of water that we can give to the plants."

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Michael Watanabe of Gushing Waters Inc. on Oahu holds
watercress that survived the drought conditions
on his family's farm.

The Big Island is suffering through a second year of drought. Residents in the Hamakua towns Kukuihaele and Kapulena have been ordered to cut water use by 25 percent.

Kenneth Ikemori, chief of the operations division at the Department of Water Supply, said his department is assessing other towns in the area, particularly those that rely on springs for their water supply.

Makapala, Keokea and Niulii were just put on conservation notice, Ikemori said. Residents in these towns will have to cut water use by 10 percent.

Extreme fire hazard exists in most of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park due to a lack of rain in almost a month, said fire control officer Jack Minassian.

The only place escaping the hazard is forested areas near park headquarters where occasional rains have fallen, he said.

But in the hot, dry lowland area about half of Hilini Pali Road, leading to a coastal overlook, has been closed, he said.

And in highland areas, Mauna Loa Strip Road remains open, but may be closed soon as green grass there starts to turn brown.

Ranger Mardie Lane warned the smokers should be especially carefull not to drop cigarette butts and cars should not pull onto grassy areas beside the road because catalytic converters can start fires.

On Maui, residents living along the slopes of Haleakala from Kanaio to Haiku have been complying with an order by the county to reduce water consumption by 10 percent.

The mandatory 10 percent reduction is scheduled to be imposed on farmers and ranchers on July 15.

"We are preparing for the situation to worsen," said Deputy Water Director George Tengan.

Haleakala Ranch President Peter Baldwin said his company isn't losing any cattle, but two consecutive years of drought have left pastures in a state where the animals are "very marginal."

"We're really dry," he said.

"There's no reserve left from last year."

Kula farmer Kenneth Okamura said a 10 percent reduction in water consumption for him means a decrease of 25 percent to 35 percent of his crop, because the dry weather requires more watering.

Rainfall on Kauai was below normal all spring but has been above normal since the arrival of the summer trade winds several weeks ago, according to the National Weather Service office in Lihue.

Portions of Kokee State Park and Waimea Canyon State Park remain closed to campers due to a continuing high fire danger. The chief casualty has been the August rainbow trout season, which has been called off.

Star-Bulletin reporters Rod Thompson, Gary Kubota
and Anthony Sommer contributed to this report

Coping with drought
a way of life for some
Big Island residents

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- Drought is a way of life for Sonja Oberosler in remote, arid Hawaiian Ranchos subdivision on the Big Island. But her hopes rose after the west Hawaii community got a little more than 3 inches of rain in January.

"Oh my God, if you would do it just one more time," the woman prayed.

In all of 1998, the subdivision got just under 5 inches of rain. Since Oberosler's prayer, it has received a trifle over 1 inch more.

Mayor Stephen Yamashiro declared a state of emergency for the Big Island in January 1998. The declaration was withdrawn for east Hawaii in May 1998, but for those like Oberosler in west Hawaii, the drought never ended.

The drought is causing extreme fire hazard at the northern and southern ends of the island, said Civil Defense Director Harry Kim.

Although farmers with irrigation have escaped the worst of it, ranchers are hurting, said Lee Kunitake of the U.S. Farm Service Agency.

"It's dry. The ranchers are screaming. They get some rains off and on, but not enough to push them through the summer," he said.

Oberosler faces it with a laugh.

"My wonderful desert," she calls her 3 acres of aa lava rock, where she has planted 700 trees and shrubs since 1983. All are stunted.

"I have literally natural bonsai," she said.

Jim Steenburg, chief of the volunteer fire department in Ocean View subdivision, uphill from Oberosler, is frustrated.

In 1998, the Legislature approved $1.25 million for an exploratory well for the community, but the governor won't release it.

"I don't understand it," Steenburg said.

In the meantime, Ocean View residents live on water caught from their rooftops in tanks when it rains. When it doesn't, they order water from haulers at $150 for 6,000 gallons.

Robby Hind, livestock manager for Parker Ranch at the other end of the island, says he's gotten this far with optimism, but no help from nature. The ranch has suffered drought in three of the past four years, he said.

From 50,000 cattle before then, the ranch is down to 35,000 now, and plans to reduce further to 30,000, he said.

"We're trying to break even. It's tough," he said.

Some residents in normally wet areas also are feeling the drought. Decreasing flow from a spring that feeds a county water system at Kukuihaele on the Hamakua Coast led to a mandatory 25 percent cut in residential usage, said Quirino Antonio of the Department of Water Supply.

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