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Saturday, September 20, 2014         

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Recent rainfall eases drought

Downpours have ended drought conditions on Oahu and Kauai, but the suffering continues for farmers and ranchers on other islands

By Gregg K. Kakesako

POSTED:


Oahu and Kauai are no longer officially in drought conditions after last month's heavy rain, the National Weather Service said.

But farmers and ranchers are still suffering, especially those on Maui, Molokai and the Big Island, where some ranchers are reportedly still hauling water to support their livestock.

National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Kodama said "conditions on the leeward side of the Big Island, which is a dry area normally, improved slightly."

However, last month's rainfall "was not enough since it occurred over a short period of time," too short to eliminate the drought conditions there.

The report issued by the Weather Service is just one of several steps that must be met before the emergency drought declaration issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is lifted. The emergency declaration, which made farmers and ranchers eligible for emergency loans and other payments, was issued for the Big Island in 2006, Maui and Molokai in 2007 and Kauai and Oahu last January.

"It's good news," said Diane Ley, state executive director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency.

However, it will be several years before the state's pasture lands recover from the past four years of drought conditions. Ranchers have been thinning their herds over the past several years because of poor grazing areas.

"Even after the rains come back, it will take years for plants to recover," said Ley. "It might take three to four years before cattle production can make a comeback."

The same thing applies to fruit trees and other crops, such as protea, Ley added.

Kauai and Oahu recorded rainfall totals about 10 to 21 inches more than what normally falls during an average month, eliminating drought in both areas. Several record rainfall totals were recorded on Oahu, including 5.41 inches at Honolulu Airport Dec. 20, breaking the old record of 5.28 inches set in 1955.

"Water levels in the Waimanalo Reservoir increased considerably over the past month," Kodama said.

Because of the rise in the water supply, the state Department of Agriculture eased restrictions on water from the reservoir, Kodama said, "from a mandatory 30 percent cutback to a 20 percent cutback on Dec. 21."

He said Maui also experienced "above-normal rainfall" last month with water levels in Molokai's Kualapuu Reservoir also increasing "modestly," but not enough to warrant the easing of the 30 percent cutback in irrigation water consumption.

On Maui, Kodama said more rain is needed for full recovery of pasture land in leeward Maui. He said the Maui County Department of Water Supply continues to request a 5 percent reduction in water use for Upcountry Maui residents, and a 10 percent reduction in water use remains in effect for Central and South Maui residents.

Delan "Rusty" Perry, a Big Island papaya and longan, or "dragon eye," farmer, said farmers in the Kapoho area "were happy to get the rain, but now we would love to see the sun."

He said the south area of the Big Island, which averages about 7 inches a month, received 6 to 9 inches of rain last month.

"For papaya and banana growers, that means stepping up their fungus control," said Perry, who heads the Big Island Farm Federation.

Kauai and Oahu received well above normal rainfall last month. Lesser amounts of rain occurred over the east half of the island chain with the windward Big Island slopes receiving below-normal rainfall totals for December.

All of the rain gauges on Oahu recorded near to well above normal rainfall for December.

Six gauges on Oahu recorded monthly totals of more than 20 inches, with the highest amount of 22.12 inches (451 percent of normal) posted by the Palehua gauge. The highest daily total was 10.04 inches at the Maunawili gauge from the heavy rain on Dec. 19. For several sites, especially in West and Central Oahu, it was the wettest month since December 2008. The 11.73 inches recorded at Honolulu Airport marked the third-wettest December on record at this location, surpassed only by 12.09 inches in 1955 and 17.29 inches in 1987.

On Kauai all of the rain gauges reported near to well above normal totals for December. The U.S. Geological Survey's Mount Waialeale gauge recorded the state's highest monthly total of 40.99 inches (90 percent of normal). However, the highest daily total came from the Kapahi gauge, which recorded 6.30 inches during the flash flood on Dec. 9.






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