Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Wells help to
stave off Molokai

The state agriculture chief
sees no need to declare
an emergency

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> The state is not yet ready to declare drought conditions on Molokai an emergency, but the situation is being monitored.

"A drought emergency declaration at this time is premature," state agriculture director James Nakatani said Monday.

Maui County Mayor James "Kimo" Apana last week asked Gov. Ben Cayetano to declare that an emergency drought situation existed on Molokai, in hopes of obtaining special funds for pumping wells to fill the major agricultural reservoir at Kualapuu.

Farmers have been forced to reduce their water consumption by 30 percent because of the reservoir level. Reserves are low due to the lack of rain and a two-week electrical breakdown in a pumping system in March.

More than 240 farmers and Hawaiian homesteaders use the water to irrigate crops, and the drought along with low reservoir levels has forced some to reduce their acreage or become cautious about expanding their businesses.

Nakatani said the pumping system has been fixed and his department has begun to pump water from Waikolu into a ditch that feeds the 1.4 billion-gallon reservoir.

He said the pumping is starting to bring up the reservoir levels, which were once as low as 4 feet, or a little more than 40 million gallons.

The latest report yesterday was that the reservoir was at 5.188 feet with a net inflow of 1.4 million gallons a day, he said.

"Right now, we feel pretty good because we see some gains," he said.

Nakatani said his department has enough money to continue pumping through June, bringing the reservoir up to more than 260 million gallons of available water.

He said electricity costs to bring the water up to that level are estimated at $180,000 to $200,000.

Nakatani said the department hopes to obtain additional funds for the electricity through a bill introduced by state Sen. Jan Buen (D, Northwest Maui-Molokai-Lanai) and also has money requested to maintain the reservoir system at Kualapuu.

Nakatani said he does not think the problems with the reservoir system can be blamed on one administration, although he acknowledges "our maintenance could have been a lot better."

He said the system at Kualapuu is designed to capture rain and was not designed for pumping water for the reservoir as it has had to for the last five years.

"That's the kind of situation we're in," he said.

"When you pump, you suck up all the money for electricity, and all the other things get neglected. Looking back, we should have had better maintenance, and things should have been more closely monitored."

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