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Less Water, More Money

Molokai Irrigation System takes precautions.

Although some farmers have noted it has been a wet summer so far, the Molokai Irrigation System (MIS) Advisory Board and the Department of Agriculture (DOA) say the island is in a drought – and have taken action to protect the precious water supply.

Water usage increased this year – up 17 percent from last summer – but the Kualapu`u reservoir is holding steady at 16 feet. Duane Okamoto, deputy chair of the state DOA, said customers have used 894,329,000 gallons so far this year.

The MIS board held its quarterly meeting last week to discuss year-to-date revenue, water usage and maintenance updates.

Not all 215 homestead accounts draw water from MIS – 75 didn’t draw any water from July 2009 to May 2010 – and of the remaining 140, not all draw for more than residential or subsistence agriculture use, he said.

“Subsistence agriculture is an important part of agriculture on Molokai, but it only requires minimal amounts of water to support crops sufficient to feed a family with a little extra to sell,” Okamoto said.

Homesteaders are guaranteed two-thirds access to the water, but non-homestead use makes up around 80 percent of the usage – worrying some homestead farmers that, if there is less water in the future, their allotment cannot be guaranteed.

“If [the years] continue with drought, the situation hurts our people, and farmers won’t be able to expand from their current situation,” said a homestead farmer who preferred to remain anonymous.

“The percentage typically indicates the majority is used by non-homesteaders, but that doesn’t mean there’s not equal access,” Okamoto said. The DOA placed a moratorium on hooking up new non-homestead farms to the MIS, and current non-homesteaders are required to cutback 20 percent of their usage due to drought.
 
Both homesteaders and commercial users are charged the same rate for water; a standard rate set by the state every year regardless of where the system is. There was a 12 cent per gallon increase last year, bringing the rate to 45 cents per thousand gallons, although Okamoto said last year’s overall usage by all users down.

Increased Revenue
While the total revenue is up 18 percent over this time last year, the DOA is still dealing with nearly $300,000 in delinquent bills by homestead accounts.

MIS chairperson James Boswell also said the term delinquent may be misleading, as accounts pay different amounts and at different times of the month.

“It’s a concern, but we’re maintaining [the usage],” he added.

Okamoto said there are 31 accounts that owe more than $1,000 each. The DOA deals with the customers on a one-to-one basis rather than bringing in a collections agency. DOA decided this based on feedback from MIS board and customers.

Legalizing Ranch Usage
Another issue on the board’s agenda in the past, but not discussed at the latest meeting, was Molokai Property Ltd. (MPL), also known as Molokai Ranch, and its use of MIS equipment.

Its contract to use the pipeline, located on homestead land, expired three years ago. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in September 2007 that MPL needed to complete an Environmental Assessment (EA) before continuing its use. MPL started the EA process just three months ago.

“We’re just excited for the fact that [the EA] is moving,” Boswell said.

Okamoto said MPL’s rental of the MIS pipeline is consistent revenue, as they pay over $135,000 a year to the system, which goes into MIS maintenance. The DOA will review the EA once the draft has been completed.

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