El Niño conditions, record breaking heat and an early dry season are forcing Maui County officials to ask residents to curb their non-essential water usage Upcountry.
According to the latest figures from the county, upcountry water levels have dropped 16 percent and water use has increased 36 percent since the Stage 1 water shortage  was declared on May 24th.
“It is of utmost concern as we get into the drier summer months that upcountry users reduce non-essential water use,” said Department of Water Supply Director Jeff Pearson, in a written email to county officials. “This coupled with the uncertainty of a reliable source for the Kamaʻole Water Treatment Plant makes this issue much more critical.”
Under the Stage 1 drought conditions, Maui’s farmers have a 90 day exemption from the water restrictions and are allowed to do what they need to do to keep their crops alive. However the dry season usually runs from June 1 to September 30, which means several months before the rains return.
“We will have to reduce the size of plantings to adjust to the water shortage which means a reduced yield,” said Warren Watanabe, Executive Director of the Maui County Farm Bureau. “Farmers don’t waste water, we will use drip irrigation or whatever we have to in order to cope.
What’s concerning is the dry season started earlier than normal and if there’s no projected rainfall we are in trouble…this heat is intense.”
Since the county declared the drought on May 24, there have been 12 days that the high temperature on Maui has broken or tied the record for that day, with temperatures ranging from 91 to 95 degrees. The National Weather Service said that heat, along with the warmer sea conditions because of El Niño, and a disruption in the trade winds, has kept the weather dry across the state.
“Even when the record wasn’t broken the temperature was only a few degrees off from the record, and these El Niño conditions are expected to continue through the fall,” said NWS Meteorologist Chevy Chevalier. “If the trade winds continue to get disrupted, this all keeps the heat over the land which means more evaporation.”
James Robello, County Executive Director of the Maui County Farm Service Agency for the US Department of Agriculture says it is likely that Maui will meet the federal definition of a drought disaster “if not this week then the following week.” Once that happens livestock operators can contact his office to start filling out applications for relief programs.
“We are preparing to take in 80 to 100 applications,” Robello said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve run this program. Actually we’ve run it 13 out of the last 15 years. We were just blessed these last two years with pretty good rain.
Not this year.”
For more information about USDA relief programs Robello can be reached at 871-5500 or by emailing [email protected]