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Molokai Irrigation System Gets $1.25 Million

The Molokai Irrigation System (MIS), which serves the bulk of the island’s agricultural and homestead users, has received $1.25 million for system improvements, Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced last week. The funds are part of $13 million in Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) statewide for investment in local agriculture industry and water irrigation system upgrades.

“Much of the state’s agricultural infrastructure is decades old,” said Russell S. Kokubun, chairperson of the Hawai’i Board of Agriculture, in a press release from the governor. “…It is important to maintain and upgrade them and keep them in service to Hawaii’s farmers, growers and ranchers, now and for the future.”

With the funding, the MIS will receive a new hydropower plant within the transmission line that will generate electricity from the water flow. The power will feed back into the Maui Electric Company (MECO) system and help offset pumping costs for the MIS, said Oscar Ignacio, irrigation district manager for MIS.

Ignacio said surveyors and engineers have already begun reviewing the site for the hydropower plant– located above Kalamaula and Manila Camp. The power project has been in the planning stages for five to eight year, however, he said, and this isn’t the first time the area has been surveyed. Ignacio added he hopes the recently released funding will move the project forward.

Gov. Abercrombie said the upgrade of agricultural and irrigation systems is critical to food security. Besides Molokai, CIP projects include improvements on Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii Island, with funding also being allocated for statewide planning, development and infrastructure upgrades.

The CIP Molokai funding will also pay for planning, design and construction to replace an above-ground concrete flume – or channel for water – with an underground pipeline. The current structure is only partially covered and falling apart, Ignacio said. They have had problems with debris and animals falling into the water supply.

Structural stabilization of an access bridge for the MIS are also included in the CIP project, according to the release.

Remote Control
The MIS will also soon benefit from an update not included as a CIP. Currently, Ignacio and his crew have to drive to the site and manually operate pumps, collect data on the system and perform other regular tasks. But with the installation of a new SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) system, to be completed in March or April, MIS workers will be able to view and control the water system remotely, according to Ignacio.

The SCADA system will allow workers to monitor the flow of water that is tunneled from Waikolu Valley to the Kaunakakai gulch above Manila Camp, as well as perform other complex operations – all from the MIS office. Ignacio said they used to have a SCADA system, but it was outdated and stopped working some time ago.

Strengths and Challenges
Yet with all the improvements to the system, lack of rain this season continues to cause water shortages. As of December, the Kualapu`u reservoir had reached a low level of 11 feet – compared to 17 feet at the same time in 2010, according to MIS records. Ignacio said that level has dropped even more in the past two months. Officials may consider water restrictions for MIS users to conserve resources in the drought. Randy Teruya of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture said many factors other than just reservoir levels, such as rainfall patterns and pumping volume, will be taken into consideration if usage restrictions are established.

Other MIS data shows improvement in some areas, however. While 2010’s financial report showed a deficit for the historically productive MIS system compared to other islands’ irrigation systems, 2011 brought an MIS surplus of nearly $74,000.

Water use by homestead users also increased by nearly 20 percent compared to the previous year. Commercial usage by companies such as Monsanto showed a slight decrease. MIS board members speculated that the homesteader increase may be attributed to expansion of family gardens.

2011 also showed a 20 percent decrease in delinquent accounts, which had previously been a concern for MIS board members.


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