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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Water supply still low

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

It was a wet winter and spring, but the Honolulu Board of Water Supply isn't quite ready to say O'ahu residents won't be asked to adhere to the voluntary water use restrictions of last summer.

Water-Saving Tips

• Check your toilet for leaks. Put a few drops of food coloring in your toilet tank. If the coloring appears in the toilet bowl without flushing, you have a leak that should be repaired. Savings: Possibly hundreds of gallons.

• Keep a container of drinking water in the refrigerator. Running the tap to cool water for drinking uses 3 gallons per minute.

• Check for leaks in outdoor faucets, property pipes and plumbing fixtures at least once each month. To check for leaking pipes, listen for the sound of running water, or look for unexplained ponding of water near pipes. Close all water outlets (faucets and taps) and check your water meter. Lift the meter cover and observe: if the reading dials show movement, you may have a hidden leak that needs repair. Savings: thousands of gallons per month.

• Water your lawn on calm days to avoid loss of sprinkler water to strong winds.

• Report leaks in fire hydrants and other public facilities so that they can be repaired.

For more tips, go to www.hbws.org, click on "water conservation" then on "water saving tips."

Source: The Honolulu Board of Water Supply

"We're still looking at what five years of drought has done," said Wanda Yamane, spokeswoman for the board. "We're hoping people will continue to conserve."

Drinking water levels are up about a foot in most O'ahu wells this year over last year, she said, and water use is down.

"We're in much better shape," Yamane said. "We're not recovered yet, but we're headed in the right direction."

Yamane said before deciding whether residents will be asked to restrict irrigation again this summer, the board will assess the situation as the drier season progresses.

"We're very thankful for the cool, wet weather we had," she said, "but it's getting much warmer now."

The news that water-use restrictions haven't yet been ruled out may be a bit puzzling to some residents.

"Where does all the water go?" said Hugo de Vries, a Kailua resident who cut his water usage in half last year. "After all that water that came down in January, it seems like we would have had enough."

The de Vries family installed low-flush toilets and cut back on irrigation when the water board announced last summer the water table was low.

"If we have to conserve, we have to conserve," he said. "I just hope we don't have to go to desalinization. That would be very expensive."

Wet weather this winter has helped to ease the drought that has gripped the islands since 1997.

"I would say it's in remission," said Neal Fujii, drought coordinator for the state Commission on Water Resource Management. If you are talking just strictly rainfall, at the end of April, rainfall was well above normal in many areas across the state, he said.

"But ground water takes time to recharge after five years of full-blown drought," he said.

Barry Usagawa, head of water resources for the board, said the fact that the well heads are up a foot is a good thing.

"This is the first summer in the past six years that we haven't started out down from the previous year," he said. "But we're not there yet."

According to the Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service, we could get lucky this summer.

The center has forecasted a 40 percent chance for above average rainfall in the state through September.

Myles Hirota, superintendent of Hawaii Kai Golf Course, said he'll take what he can get.

The golf course has cut its water use by half over the past several years, mostly out of financial necessity. The water that flows from the treatment plant to the golf course is too brackish to put on the grass, he said. Management has to haul it in.

"The amount of water we saved with the rain over the winter was tremendous," he said.

Until the winter rains, things were looking dire.

On Aug. 2, the Board of Water Supply initiated voluntary irrigation and conservation measures for O'ahu because drought conditions had left water levels dangerously low.

Users were asked to reduce consumption by 10 percent and residents were asked to water their lawns only on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

That same month, Gov. Linda Lingle issued a proclamation of a statewide drought, asking the federal government to help alleviate losses and damage caused by drought conditions.

Federal aid totaling $150,000 helped four agricultural concerns and the Maui Department of Water Supply to pay for pumps, irrigation systems and increased electrical costs, Fujii said.

In late November, the Board of Water Supply lifted its voluntary irrigation and conservation measures for O'ahu after rains that soaked much of the state and caused flooding in several areas.

The wet weather continued through much of the winter.

Rain gauges showed precipitation from October through April at well above normal levels, the National Weather Service said, and throughout the state the season ranked among the wettest in the past 30 years.

Reach Karen Blakeman at 535-2430 or kblakeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.