No rain could
spell plenty pain
Low rainfall has farmers fretting
about crops and water officials
pleading for conservation
Lower-than-normal winter rainfall has farmers on two islands worrying about their summer crops as county officials urge the public to cut back on water usage.
"They say, 'April showers, May flowers,' but it hasn't happened," said Ward Murashige, a cabbage farmer in Kula, Maui.
The low rainfall has affected water tables on Maui, Oahu and the Big Island. Yesterday, Maui County water officials warned that they may have to impose a mandatory 10 percent reduction in water consumption Upcountry if reservoir levels continue to drop. Residents and farmers have been under a voluntary restriction since Dec. 4, when an emergency drought declaration was declared along the slopes of Haleakala from Haiku to Kanaio.
On Oahu the lower rainfall has been compounded with above-average water consumption recently, according to the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which has asked residents to voluntarily cut water use.
Water Board Manager and engineer Clifford Jamile urged the public to "use water judiciously; don't waste it. Hopefully we don't have to take more stringent measures."
Oahu water consumption was approaching mid- to late-summer levels in the first week of May, the board reported yesterday.
The dry winter has caused Moanalua and Punaluu wells to drop to alert status, Jamile said.
He explained that winter rainfall is critical because that is usually the time aquifers are replenished.
The National Weather Service reported Oahu had relatively dry conditions last month with rainfall between 50 to 70 percent of normal levels. But a few Central and West Oahu areas had higher-than-normal rainfall due to thunderstorms on April 10.
The weather service is predicting below-normal rainfall for Hilo, Kahului and Honolulu this summer.
"We're in a pretty dry pattern," said weather service hydrologist Kevin Kodama.
Farmers on the Big Island are acutely aware of the water shortage problems.
Since 2000 the entire west side of the island has been under a declaration of emergency due to drought, said acting Civil Defense chief Wendell Hatada. Now things are getting worse.
At his family's 150-year-old South Kona coffee farm in Kealakekua, Tom Greenwell said the drought is major.
Greenwell Farms buys coffee from 250 growers, Greenwell said. He toured the farms this week and estimated losses at 10 to 60 percent, depending on location.
Allen Wall's ranch is in Kainaliu, near Greenwell Farms. In April, Kainaliu got 1.97 inches of rain, 28 percent of normal, according to the weather service. This month, Wall's ranch received just 0.05 inches, he said.
Wall is having to buy feed for his cattle and sees losses in his coffee and macadamia trees.
To the north, at Kahua Ranch in North Kohala, rancher Herbert "Monty" Richards noted that "we're coming up onto the slow time of year when rain doesn't come."
The numbers show it: 2.43 inches in March, 28 percent of normal, then just 0.33 inches in April, 4 percent of normal.
Making the best of a bad situation, Richards quipped, "The main thing is a sense of humor."
The dry weather is also coming around to Puna on the east side, said Hatada. And State Cooperative Extension agent Mel Nishina in Hilo said: "It's bad. It's gradually drying up."
On Maui, County Water Director George Tengan said the voluntary restriction applies to farmers but not if it affects their livelihood.
"We need the cooperation of everyone to assure that there will be sufficient water available for health and sanitation purposes," Tengan said.
Farmers wonder if they should reduce their plantings, and worry they would take a loss on future crops.
"You know they're going to lose if they can't water," said Paula Rafanan, manager of the Maui Farmers' Cooperative Exchange.
The weather service said while the windward slopes experienced normal to above-normal rainfall, the western areas of Maui and the Big Island experienced dry conditions.
Glenwood in upper Puna on the Big Island recorded about 13 inches of rain in seven days in April, but most of the remaining areas of the Big Island continued to see below-normal rainfall.
Most gauges on the Big Island reported 30 to 50 percent of normal rainfall.
Except for East Maui, most of the areas on the Valley Isle had very dry conditions, including Kahului Airport where the gauge recorded its lowest April rainfall total ever, the Weather Service said.
Irrigation ditch flows yesterday were running less than 10 percent of what is needed at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., the largest single sugar plantation in the state.
The 37,000 acres of Hawaiian Commercial have not had any significant rainfall in a month and below-median ditch flows for the last eight out of nine months, according to an irrigation official.
"We've had to hop around and not plant in some areas where it's dry," said Hawaiian Commercial General Manager Stephen Holaday. "If this continues for much longer, we'll have to stop planting."
Star-Bulletin reporters Gary T. Kubota, Rod Thompson and Leila Fujimori contributed to this report.
Board of Water Supply