Hawai’i Drought Conditions Warrant Natural Disaster Designation

February 2, 2012, 4:15 PM HST · Updated February 3, 7:56 AM
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Big island aerial file photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

Federal authorities today issued a natural disaster designation for Hawai’i County due to ongoing drought conditions.

The designation clears the way for affected ranchers and farmers to apply for federal relief.

According to the National Weather Service, Extreme Drought conditions persist in the South Kohala and portions of the Hamakua District of Hawai’i Island.

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Hydrologist Kevin Kodama noted in a recent advisory that pastures and general vegetation over most of the district were in very poor condition causing an ongoing concern for brush fires.

The advisory further stated that ranchers in the area destocked cattle and initiated water hauling operations, while some Kona coffee growers, had to irrigate more than normal to sustain their orchards.

The US Department of Agriculture issued the declaration on Jan. 18, 2012, after reviewing an application submitted by the governor last month.

“By designating Hawai’i County a natural disaster area, President Obama and US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have recognized that the island’s farmers and ranchers have endured enough,” said Governor Neil Abercrombie in a statement.

“Even today, Big Island residents continue to experience drought conditions ranging from severe to extreme. The USDA’s assistance will help hard working families recover losses and see it through until conditions improve,” he said.

Officials from the Hawai’i Board of Agriculture expressed appreciation for support from the USDA.  “This disaster assistance is a lifeline for many of our agriculture producers who have been dealing with severe drought conditions for over six years,” said board chair Russell Kokubun.

According to the Governor’s office, qualified farm operators in the designated area are eligible for low interest emergency loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency to cover losses. Additional information is available at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

Eligible individuals have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply.

Meantime, here on Maui, drought is also a concern, but is not included in the disaster declaration.

The National Weather Service reports dry conditions over the leeward areas of Maui, especially from Ulupalakua to Lahaina.  Despite ample rain in December, hydrologists say Upcountry water levels declined quickly in January.

The Maui County Department of Water Supply has maintained its call for a 5% reduction in water use, and a 10% request for reduction in water use by Central and South Maui residents.

 

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