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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 24, 2006

Impact on farms No. 1 concern

 •  Radar to examine Kaua'i reservoir

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer


Kaua'i farmers who suffered damage from recent heavy rains may be eligible for low-interest loans from the Hawai'i Department of Agriculture's Loan Division.

Loan officers will be at the state's Disaster Assistance and Recovery Centers today and tomorrow on Kaua'i.

Farmers will be eligible for several types of loans, including emergency loans up to $250,000. The rate is expected to be about 3 percent. Farmers needing loans of $25,000 or less may apply for micro-loans involving less paperwork and swifter processing.

Farmers should bring copies of their past three tax returns and photos or documentation of damage.

For more information, call the Agricultural Loan Division on O'ahu at 973-9460 or call HDOA's Kaua'i office at (808) 274-3069.

Source: HDOA

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Any effort to take down a compromised dam on Kaua'i would have to wait for an economic assessment of how the loss of water supply would affect farmers, state agriculture officials said. The process could take some time, officials said, because of the critical need farmers have for the water resources.

And while it remains unclear who would make the final call, officials said taking down a dam would not be automatic.

Following the Kaloko Reservoir burst, some called for the removal of the dam and similar structures on Kaua'i and throughout the state, talk that has some farmers worried. Already reeling from the impact of torrential rains, some are concerned the state will deem it cheaper to remove reservoirs rather than repair and properly maintain them.

"I'm concerned with them putting the dam back. If they don't put the money into restoring the dam, the losses are going to mount," said David Whatmore, owner of Hula Daze Farm downstream from Kaloko Reservoir. "The water is the key underlying thing. Without it, profitable agriculture is impossible."

State officials say it is too early to determine if Kaloko will be taken down, modified or repaired, and the focus now is on assisting farmers with the immediate needs of paying their bills and recouping losses from flooded crops.

But if the state decides Kaloko or any other reservoir is unnecessary, the Hawai'i Department of Agriculture must examine the economic impact on the farmers taking water from the reservoir.

"Wherever agriculture is in use we will come in and evaluate and assess what the value of that use is. We are looking at an evaluation going on right now for all the dams on Kaua'i. That doesn't mean that any long-term decision will be made," said Sandra Lee Kunimoto, chairwoman of the Hawai'i Board of Agriculture. "The emergency package (proposed by Gov. Linda Lingle) included $5 million for the Department of Land and Natural Resources to do studies. Part of those studies will be the uses of water from those dams."

The weather has prevented many farmers from getting out into their fields and thoroughly assessing the damage. Not until crop yields are evaluated months from now will farmers know exactly how the rain affected them. Rainfall itself can adversely affect papayas and other water-sensitive crops but oversaturated soil can lead to disease once the top layers dry.

But the prospect of losing a major water source is paramount in most farmers' minds.

"Cooler heads have to prevail. We have to do it the right way," said Jerry Ornellas, a Kaua'i Farm Bureau board member and president of the East Kaua'i Water Cooperative. "These reservoirs not only impact agriculture, they help flood control. For better or for worse these dams have become a part of our ecology. Even taking them down requires careful study."

State Sen. Gary Hooser, D-7th (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau) said it is important to get the damage assessment under way because the amount of federal assistance hinges on the percentage of Kaua'i crops that were lost. The majority of farmers in the Kilauea area are concerned about Kaloko's future and how any repairs or modifications could affect irrigation in the area.

"To really fully assess the damage is going to take some time. It reminds everyone about the importance and place of agriculture in our community, especially the Neighbor Islands and the rural communities," he said. "I think people forget what an important role agriculture plays. Hopefully, the weather dries up."

Reach Peter Boylan at pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.