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Rain does little to ease drought

Farmers hope for relief with the wet season

By Gary T. Kubota

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 12:33 p.m. HST, Nov 22, 2010


The statewide drought appears to be easing as cooler La Nina conditions bring more rain to Hawaii, according to the National Weather Service.

But farmers and ranchers said a protracted amount of rain is needed before they can recover from several years of extremely dry conditions.

Some areas, such as southwestern Kauai and leeward sections of the Big Island and Maui, did not receive significant rainfall in October, continuing extreme drought conditions, National Weather Service officials said Friday.

Late Thursday, thunderstorms along with lightning passed by Hawaii, and most of the anticipated heavy rainfall missed the islands.

The weather service reported 0.15 inches of rain Thursday at Honolulu Airport and 0.6 inches at Lihue Airport but none for airports in Hilo and Kahului.

In October, while many places reported less than normal rainfall, some areas exceeded their normal monthly average, including Haiku on Maui with 5.71 inches -- 12 percent above normal -- and Honaunau on the Big Island with 5.54 inches of rain, 7 percent above normal.

A rain forest gauge on Oahu recorded 19.6 inches, or 15 percent more than normal, the weather service said.

Kauai rancher William Sanchez Sr. said he has had to cut his herd in half and is down to 1,000 head, and he has been buying cattle feed.

Sanchez said the grass is gone in portions of his 2,000-acre ranch.

"We had a little rain, but other than that it's been down," he said.

Sanchez said that in prior years he was able to get molasses to supplement forage for cattle, but that option ended with the closure of sugar cane cultivation on the island.

Farmers in East Oahu said the rain in October and November has helped a bit.

Grant Hamachi, president of the East County Farm Bureau, said the state agricultural reservoir at Waimanalo has risen, but not enough to lift the 30 percent mandatory conservation restrictions for farmers.

Hamachi said farmers are going into the rainy season and that improvements have been made to patch ditches.

"The water system should be improved as time goes by," he said.

At Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. on Maui, the rains have been enough to encourage new plantings in some high-elevation areas in October and this month.

But company official Rick Volner said plantings have been spaced out in the event the anticipated rain does not fall, and Hawaiian Commercial has to stretch its supply of water.

Volner said the while there has been some increase in rain, a lot of the plantation is still at 40 percent of normal rainfall.

"It's been such a prolonged drought. ... It's going to take more than one month of a lot of rain," he said.

Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Kodama said the state is entering its normal wet season, with a chance of wetter than normal patterns because La Nina conditions replaced El Nino trends last summer.

La Nina conditions, with cooler than normal surface sea temperatures near the equator, cause changes in the weather and possible rain, he said.

Kodama said he is expecting more rain with "guarded optimism" because there have been a couple of La Nina years that have been dry.

Meanwhile, ranchers hard hit by the drought have been receiving subsidies and loans totaling millions of dollars from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Department Secretary Thomas Vilsack designated all four Hawaii counties as farm disaster areas because of the drought.

James Robello, Maui County executive director in the department's Farm Service Agency, said except for 2005, drought conditions have persisted since 2004.






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