Bracing for Drought: Molokai Irrigation System planning ahead
With water levels in the Kualapu`u Reservoir reaching concerning levels and little seasonal rain in sight, members of the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS), which serves the bulk of the island’s agricultural and homestead users, are starting to prepare for the worst.
At this time last year, the reservoir held 18 feet of water. Currently, however, the water level is hovering around 10 feet.
Representatives of the six major commercial users of the MIS came to the MIS board meeting last week with some serious concerns: they want to begin preparations for a possible drought crisis in the coming months.
“We are extremely concerned about current reservoir levels and worried about extreme emergency conditions over summer,” said Ray Foster, general manager for Monsanto Molokai. “We perceive [it] to be pending emergency.”
The last emergency situation occurred about 12 years ago, when the reservoir reached a level of four feet, according to MIS officials. At that time, a contractor was hired to remove concrete at the bottom of the reservoir that increased the amount of usable water, said the Randy Teruya of the Department of Agriculture (DOA). After that, he recalled, it rained enough to sustain the system.
Teruya said DOA is relying on information from the National Weather Service to predict possible drought conditions.
“Right now, they’re not drawing a nice picture for the summer,” he said.
Mycogen’s Adolph Helm said in 2000, the mayor declared a drought for Molokai and funds were released to offset costs for increased pumping and electricity.
Rep. Mele Carroll has already introduced a bill this legislative season, HB2878, which would appropriate $500,000 in emergency funds for the MIS.
But resources are limited, and funding for additional pumping will not necessarily provide more water, said Brian Kau, DOA administrator and chief engineer, communicating at the MIS meeting via video teleconference.
“We can only pump until there’s no water left,” he said. “The most important [thing] is to identify potential emergency water sources.”
Kau asked MIS users to help the department in figuring out where additional water could come from. Funding could help pump water from Well 17, but that source could only provide an additional 250,000 gallons per day, he said.
Homestead representative Moke Kim is concerned about increasing the demand on water sources.
“The aquifer only has so much it can generate, and it can’t generate if weather patterns stay the same,” he said. “We always got to keep at forefront the amount that’s in the aquifer and how much it can continue to provide in foreseeable future.”
Teruya said DOA staff will draw up several possible scenarios and bring them to MIS board members and users for input next month.
“We want to start with planning today rather than in July,” said Foster.