Hawaii Drought Monitor


Background

What is Drought?

Drought is a chronic and troublesome problem in Hawaii, at one time or another affecting virtually every part of the state. These events often reduce crop yields, diminish livestock herds, desiccate streams, irrigation ditches and reservoirs, deplete groundwater supplies, and lead to forest and brush fires. Periods of drought invariably give rise to water crises, sometimes requiring imposition of emergency conservation measures.

Drought can be characterized from the perspectives of meteorology, agriculture, hydrology, and socio-economic impacts. For example, the meteorological perspective would describe drought as a rainfall deficit compared with some normal or expected rainfall amount. The agricultural perspective could describe drought by its impacts on the agricultural industry due to reduced rainfall and water supply (e.g., crop loss, herd culling, etc.). Hydrological descriptions of drought may compare stream flows, ground water, and reservoir levels to normal conditions. Drought can also be described from the socio-economic perspective by the direct and indirect impacts droughts have on society and the economy (e.g., increased unemployment due to failure of an industry because of drought). Lack of rainfall is not the only factor contributing to the impacts of drought. Both natural events and human activities, such as expanding populations, irrigation, and environmental needs all put pressure on water supplies. Lack of rainfall combined with the demands society place on on water systems and supplies contribute to drought impacts. During the past 15 years, the most severe droughts impacting the Hawaiian Islands have been associated with the El Niño Phenomenon and persistent zones of high pressure systems throughout the islands.

Drought conditions on the Island of Hawaii result in loss of cattle, unsuitable farming land, and increased soil erosion.
Drought conditions on the Island of Hawaii result in loss of cattle, unsuitable farming land, and increased soil erosion.
An aerial view of Honolulu, where urban growth has increased water demands and fringes upland watershed areas.
An aerial view of Honolulu, where urban growth has increased water demands and fringes upland watershed areas.

The agriculture industry is usually the first to be impacted by drought. Lack of rainfall and reduced irrigation water supplies can cause reduced yields, crop failure, and force farmers to delay planting or risk losing their crop. Drought can destroy pasture and deplete drinking water for livestock. Ranchers are forced to purchase feed and water and reduce herd sizes to cope with drought.

Rain gage on the Island of Hawaii. With other information, rain gages provide insight to climate trends and water supply.
Rain gage on the Island of Hawaii. With other information, rain gages provide insight to climate trends and water supply.
Given climate forecasts and various mitigation measures, ranchers are able to reduce drought impacts to herds.
Given climate forecasts and various mitigation measures, ranchers are able to reduce drought impacts to herds.

Another danger associated with the impacts of drought is the heightened potential of wildland fires during extended dry periods. Continued economic growth and development in the wildland/urban interface areas has increased the risk to human life and property. Other concerns include the availability of sufficient fresh water reservoirs to combat wildland fires and the looming threat of wildfire on former plantation lands no longer irrigated.

Kualapuu Reservoir, Molokai.  Agricultural reservoirs are critical during drought, but can also serve for fire suppression.
Kualapuu Reservoir, Molokai. Agricultural reservoirs are critical during drought, but can also serve for fire suppression.
The threat of wildland fires increase greatly during drought, and attention must be focused on urban interface areas.
The threat of wildland fires increase greatly during drought, and attention must be focused on urban interface areas.

In the past, drought was addressed as a temporary emergency. Actions were taken in response to impacts in a reactionary fashion. The most important lesson learned in recent years is that the best time to reduce the impacts of drought is before they occur. It is important to develop a plan that advocates a proactive drought management approach. The Hawaii Drought Plan was framed with this approach in mind.

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History of Drought in Hawaii

Founded on a rich agricultural heritage, and fueled by a growing population, the Hawaiian Islands have been prone to drought and water shortages throughout history. Below is a brief look at the severe droughts Hawaii has experienced over the past century. By no means does this timeline thoroughly address all the impacts drought has had, but it does provide a picture of the frequency and severity of droughts in our State's history.

Workers harvesting sugar cane. To provide for this water-intensive crop, hundreds of miles of irrigation ditches were constructed throughout the islands.
Workers harvesting sugar cane. To provide for this water-intensive crop, hundreds of miles of irrigation ditches were constructed throughout the islands.
A view of urban Honolulu.  As Oahu's population continues to grow, the competition over water for domestic consumption, agriculture, and the environment also increases.
A view of urban Honolulu. As Oahu's population continues to grow, the competition over water for domestic consumption, agriculture, and the environment also increases.
Year Area Remarks
1901 North Hawaii Severe drought, destructive forest fires.
1905 Kona, Hawaii Serious drought and forest fires.
1908 Hawaii and Maui Serious drought.
1912 Kohala, Hawaii Serious drought and severe sugarcane crop damage for two years.
1952 Kauai Long, severe dry spell.
1953 Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu Water rationing on Maui; Water tanks in Kona almost empty; 867 head of cattle died; Pineapple production on Molokai reduced by 30 percent; Rainfall in the islands had been 40 percent less than normal.
1962 Hawaii and Maui State declared disaster for these islands; Crop damage, cattle deaths, and sever fire hazards; Losses totaled $200,000.
1965 Hawaii State water emergency declared; Losses totaled $400,000.
1971 Hawaii and Maui Irrigation and domestic water users sharply curtailed.
1975 Kauai and Oahu Worst drought for sugar plantations in 15 years.
1977-1978 Hawaii and Maui Declared State disaster for these islands.
1980-1981 Hawaii and Maui State declared disaster; Heavy agricultural and cattle losses; Damages totaling at least $1.4 million.
1983-1985 Hawaii El Niño effect; State declared disaster; Crop production reduced by 80 percent in Waimea and Kamuela areas; $96,000 spent for drought relief projects.
1996 Hawaii, Maui, and Molokai Declared drought emergency; heavy damages to agriculture and cattle industries; Losses totaling at least $9.4 million.
1998-1999 Hawaii and Maui State declared drought emergency for Maui; County declared emergency for Hawaii due to water shortages; heavy damages to agriculture and cattle industries; Statewide cattle losses alone estimated at $6.5 million.
2000-2002 Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai Counties declare drought emergencies; Governor proclaims statewide drought emergency; Secretary of Interior designates all Counties as primary disaster areas due to drought; East Maui streams at record low levels; Statewide cattle losses alone projected at $9 million.

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Hawaii Drought Council

The Hawaii Drought Council (HDC) evolved out of an ad hoc committee formed by the Governor to address the problems of drought in Hawaii. From its inception, the drought planning process has involved participation from both government and private sector stakeholders. The Commission on Water Resource Management (CWRM) provides staffing and technical support for the Hawaii Drought Council and its various task forces and committees.

History

  • September 16, 1998 – A meeting on Drought Planning Assistance for Hawaii held in Honolulu, Hawaii with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (DOA), U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), and National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC).
  • May 24-26, 1999 - Drought Mitigation Planning Seminar held in Pepeekeo, Hawaii in conjunction with DOA and NDMC.
  • September 16, 1999 – Ad hoc Hawaii State Drought Mitigation Committee formed by the Governor.
  • January 31, 2000 – Hawaii Drought Council established by the Governor.
  • March 28-29, 2000 – Hawaii State Drought Meeting held in Honolulu, Hawaii, co-sponsored by DOA and CWRM.
  • April - September 2000 - Hawaii Drought Plan (HDP) drafted and public informational meetings held statewide. HDP finalized and submitted to BOR.

Membership

The following is a list of the agencies and organizations currently represented on the Hawaii Drought Council:

  • Governor’s Office
  • Department of Land and Natural Resources
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Defense (State Civil Defense Division)
  • The Four County Water Departments
  • Hawaii Farm Bureau Hawaii
  • Cattleman’s Council
  • Hawaii Association of Conservation Districts
  • East Maui Irrigation Co., Ltd.

Leadership Structure

The Hawaii drought leadership structure comprises the Governor’s Office, the Hawaii Drought Council, and various HDC task forces and committees. The Water Resources Committee is responsible for monitoring and assessing drought conditions and forecasting potential impacts associated with drought. The Water Supply, Agriculture and Commerce, and Environment, Public Health, and Safety Task Forces were established to identify drought impacts to their respective sectors. These Task Forces also serve to identify sector-based mitigation measures and emergency response actions to reduce the impacts of drought. Future plans call for the establishment of County/Local Drought Committees to assess regional drought issues and to identify county-specific projects in which to implement mitigation and response measures at the local level.

Activities

Activites of the HDC include, 1) continue participation in the State Hazard Mitigation Forum; 2) Increase drought monitoring and dissemination of information to the public and affected agencies; 3) Develop and implement proactive drought mitigation efforts; and 4) Promote greater statewide awareness of drought and water conservation

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