Plans for Waikamoi flume unveiled

MAKAWAO – The leaking, redwood Waikamoi flume would be replaced with an aluminum channel supported by an aluminum truss along its entire 1.1-mile length, retaining precious surface water for drought-plagued Upcountry residents and providing a safe working platform for employees of the Department of Water Supply.

The flume channels water from the Haipuaena Stream to the vicinity of Waikamoi Stream and eventually into the water department’s upper Kula system, which supplies water to residents of Kula, Waiakoa, Keokea, Ulupalakua and Kanaio.

The $10 million to $15 million flume replacement project, which is pending necessary approvals, is expected to begin in the last quarter of this year and take about two years go complete, according to plans submitted to the state Office of Environmental Quality Control.

The office published the department’s draft environmental assessment and anticipated finding of no significant impact last week in its current issue of The Environmental Notice. It is available online at oeqc.doh.hawaii.gov/Shared%Documents/Environmental_Notice/current_issue.pdf.

Public comments are due June 22.

Maui County Council Member Joe Pontanilla, chairman of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, said Saturday that more than $10 million has been appropriated for the flume replacement project in the current county budget.

Located in the Koolau Forest Reserve, the flume was originally built in the 1930s out of redwood timbers and rock and concrete masonry foundations, according to the draft environmental assessment. In 1974 and 1975, the flume box was replaced with redwood planking, although portions of the timber bridges that were built in the 1930s were kept in place.

Big isle drought persists

Drought lingered on the Big Island through another dry winter and is returning this summer to more deeply ravaged, already water-stressed places. These next five months aren’t expected to bring any real reprieve, especially for leeward areas, said Kevin Kodama, senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service.

Weather officials are predicting persistence and possible worsening of drought on the Big Island. Most of the island’s leeward sites had less than 50 percent of normal rainfall during the wet season, which typically runs October through April. Some areas that had slight improvement because of rain earlier this year are already intensifying again and not expecting to get better soon.

On the other hand, most of Big Island’s windward areas had 80 to 110 percent of the normal rainfall range during the wet season, which was ranked the 18th wettest season out of the last 30 years. In fact, the gauge at Hilo Airport received 79.65 inches.

The only exception to the latest prediction is the upland coffee belt, particularly in South Kona, which is unique in that more rainfall is typically observed in the summer than in winter, Kodama said. One theory for this is the onshore sea breeze is more persistent, ascending the mountain slopes, to interact with descending trade winds through the saddle, producing local showers usually in the late afternoon. Meanwhile, the rest of the Hawaiian Island chain generally experiences a dry season, running from now through September.

La Niña conditions, which typically last about nine to 12 months, were primarily to blame for the drier than normal wet season. La Niña is defined as cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean that impact global weather patterns.

Australia faces the end of Big Dry

Phew! What a scorcher that was.

Australians call it the Big Dry and, after nine parched years, it’s over.

It’s the drought that has afflicted large areas of this vast country and now the federal government is about to declare it officially at an end.

The final two areas to be given the all-clear are Bundarra and Eurobodalla in the south-eastern state of New South Wales.

In practical terms, it means that the last of special subsidies to farmers are being withdrawn.

It’s the end of “Exceptional Circumstances”, or EC, to use the bureaucratic jargon.

“The seasonal outlook is brighter than it has been for many years and the improved conditions are a welcome reprieve for farmers across Australia,” said Joe Ludwig, Australia’s agriculture minister.

He said the end of the drought would be a “a major milestone for agriculture in Australia”.

Since 2001, the government has provided 4.5bn Australian dollars ($4.7bn, £2.9bn) in EC assistance.

That’s the money handed out to struggling farmers, totalling between 400 and 600 dollars each, every fortnight.
‘Baffling’

Some farmers say the move to take away the EC assistance is premature.

The National Farmers Federation said the government’s “snap decision” to cut subsidies was “baffling”.

Farmers, ranchers brace for dry times

Rainfall levels in Upcountry areas are below normal this year, and there’s a bleak outlook for rain for ranchers and farmers as the islands head into the normally dry summer months, a hydrologist said Thursday.

“We’re headed out of our wet season. The outlook is not too good,” said Kevin Kodama, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service on Oahu.

From January through March, Kula received 5.5 inches of rain. Normally, it gets around 8.7 inches, Kodama said. Pukalani received 4 inches in the same time period while it normally gets around 16 inches. Ulupalakua received a little under 5 inches, and it usually gets about 10.

“We’re in really bad shape,” said Sumner Erdman, president of Ulupalakua Ranch. “The economic impacts have already hit.”

Erdman said this will be the fourth year his ranch has been impacted by dry conditions.

The economic losses amount in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

The ranch has had to sell cattle. It now also sees cattle with lower weights because less rain means cows have less grass to feed on. The ranch also has lower reproduction rates because there are fewer cows to breed, Erdman said.

Over four years, the number of breeding cows has gone from 2,300 to 1,500, as the ranch sells them off to deal with the drought conditions, Erdman said.

The ranch currently has 3,800 head of cattle, with preparations under way to sell more, he said.

Warren Watanabe, executive director of the Maui County Farm Bureau, said the dry weather trend seems to follow the long-term prediction of scientists.

Because areas of extreme drought in Hawaii have increased in the past few months, with the hardest hit being the pasture areas on the Big Island, Maui and portions of Molokai, the farm bureau’s priority during this legislative session has been to fund drought mitigation projects.

Environmental groups sue over Lahaina treatment plant

LAHAINA >> Four community groups are suing Maui County in federal court over alleged environmental violations at a Lahaina treatment plant.

The groups claim millions of gallons of wastewater injected into wells at the facility each day surface offshore of Kahekili Beach Park, killing coral and triggering outbreaks of invasive algae.

Earthjustice filed the complaint Monday on behalf of Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Surfrider Foundation, West Maui Preservation Association and Sierra Club-Maui Group. They notified the county of their intent to sue last year, alleging Clean Water Act violations have been ongoing for at least 20 years.

“We notified Maui County last June that its Lahaina facility was damaging the reef and operating illegally, in hope that the county would voluntarily seek the required permit for wastewater discharges from the injection wells,” said Earthjustice attorney Caroline Ishida. “Unfortunately, it apparently takes an enforcement action to get the county to do anything, which is why we’re not seeking relief from the court.”

County spokesman Rod Antone said corporation counsel attorneys had yet to receive the complaint, but that pending litigation prevents officials from commenting.

The suit asks that the county be directed to secure a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit

Reforestation not taking hold in land burned by Station fire

Federal forester Steve Bear stood on a fire-stripped slope of the San Gabriel Mountains last week, trying to find just one pine sapling, any sapling, pushing through the bright green bedspread of vegetation.

It would give him hope after a year of disappointment.

Last April, U.S. Forest Service crews planted nearly a million pine and fir trees to try to reclaim land scorched clean by the devastating Station fire. Most of them shriveled up and died within months, as skeptics had predicted.

“That’s too bad,” said Bear, resource officer for the service’s Los Angeles River Ranger District, shaking his head in disappointment. “When we planted seedlings, conditions were ideal in terms of soil composition and temperature, rainfall and weather trends. Then the ground dried out and there just wasn’t enough moisture after we planted.”

Foresters estimate that just a quarter of the 900,000 seedlings planted across 4,300 acres are thriving. That is far below the 75% to 80% survival rate the agency wanted.

On most slopes, instead of small trees, the ground nurtures dense shrubs and grass in the shadows of skeletal dead trees scorched by the 2009 blaze.

A dry season is expected for wildflowers in Southern California

Right about now, tiny goldfields and purple mat should be erupting in carpets of color on the desert floor at Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks. The gentle hills of the Antelope Valley poppy reserve should be turning bright orange with thousands of California poppy blossoms.

But so far this spring, wildflowers in local deserts and mountains are in short supply. Even the rainstorm that swept through Southern California last weekend won’t be able to rescue what flower watchers say is turning out to be a disappointing year.

“I have a feeling that if anything does happen, it’s going to be a late season and a short one,” says Helen Tarbet, a field ranger who leads wildflower walks at Figueroa Mountain in the Santa Lucia District of Los Padres National Forest.

Indeed, it has been a very dry year in California. In the Southland, the drenching winter rains critical for wildflowers to start germinating never materialized. The mid-March storm brought less than an inch to 4 inches of rain to Southern California, Santa Barbara area and the vicinity, but rainfall totals are still below normal for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service.

Statewide, the snowpack measured continues to be well-below last year’s record-setter.

“The pretty abysmal snowpack levels we have this year are going to impact a lot of recreational experiences,” says Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the state’s Department of Water Resources. Late rains in the Sierra could help, but the roaring waterfalls at Yosemite and the white-water courses of the Kern River probably will be less robust than usual.

Desert wildflowers might be one of the earliest harbingers of the low-water year.

Report: Water shortages increasingly will offer weapon for states, terror groups

By Karen DeYoung, Thursday, March 22, 4:19 AM

Fresh-water shortages and more droughts and floods will increase the likelihood that water will be used as a weapon between states or to further terrorist aims in key strategic areas, including the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, a U.S. intelligence assessment released Thursday says.

Although “water-related state conflict” is unlikely in the next 10 years, the assessment says, continued shortages after that might begin to affect U.S. national security interests.

The assessment is drawn from a classified National Intelligence Estimate distributed to policy-makers in October. Although the unclassified version does not mention problems in specific countries, it describes “strategically important water basins” tied to rivers in several regions. These include the Nile, which runs through 10 countries in central and northeastern Africa before traveling through Egypt into the Mediterranean Sea; the Tigris-Euphrates in Turkey, Syria and Iraq; the Jordan, long the subject of dispute among Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians; and the Indus, whose catchment area includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Tibet.

“As water problems become more acute, the likelihood … is that states will use them as leverage,”

Europe’s water resources ‘under pressure’

Continued inefficient use of water could threaten Europe’s economy, productivity and ecosystems, a report has warned.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) said that the continent’s water resources were under pressure and things were getting worse.

It said limited supplies were being wasted, and nations had to implement existing legislation more effectively.

The EEA presented its findings at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseilles.

“The critical thing for us is that we are seeing an increasing number of regions where river basins, because of climate change, are experiencing water scarcity,” said EEA executive director Jacqueline McGlade.

“Yet behavioural change, and what that means, hasn’t really come about.”

Prof McGlade said the main purpose of the report was to raise awareness about the issue.

“Member states need to be clearer about the opportunities they can make in order to enhance their use of a scarce resource,” she told BBC News.

“Nations need to use different kinds of methods. Instead of just having a hosepipe ban to fix this year’s problem, you need to invest in a very different way.

“Long-term investment needs to recognise these different uses of how water is allocated, how it is used [and the need for] different water qualities.

“[The report] highlights all the different challenges as countries move from their historical position on water to where they are moving to [as a result of] climate change.”
Within the EU, agriculture uses about a quarter of the water diverted from the natural environment, and in southern Europe the figure is as high as 80%.

As there was an economic cost to farmers abstracting water to put on their crops, Prof McGlade said the sector was showing an increased awareness of where water was being used inefficiently.