As Hawaii's traditionally rainy season gets under way this month, Maui County - and much of the state - is still plagued by extreme drought that has lingered for several years. And the dry conditions aren't expected to let up anytime soon.
The state overall can expect drier-than-normal conditions through early next year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its rainfall outlook released this week.
The agency noted that while Kauai and Oahu may start to recover during the wet season that runs from October through April, Maui County and the Big Island aren't expected to make full recoveries.
A dry field along Kuihelani Highway near the Dunes at Maui Lani golf course shows Maui’s ongoing dry condi Island are not expected to recover from extreme drought, although the state’s traditionally rainy season starts this month.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"For Maui, it's probably not going to pull out of the drought seen on the leeward parts of the island because it's been so long-lasting and severe that a few rain events won't help," said Kevin Kodama, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu.
Maui recorded below-average rainfall totals so far this year through September, according to National Weather Service data. Most of the island's gauges had totals of less than 50 percent of average for the year.
In May, the start of Hawaii's dry season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared Maui County a "primary natural disaster area" because of agricultural losses caused by the ongoing drought.
"What makes it more severe is the compounding - this long, long-term lack of regular rainfall," said James Robello, county executive director with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency on Maui. "This is the seventh year out of the last nine years that we've declared a drought disaster for Maui."
Robello's agency provides disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers through low-interest emergency loans as well as compensation to farmers for noninsurable crops and to livestock producers that have suffered grazing losses.
"It's having a big effect on our farmers," Robello said of the dry conditions.
He said his office hasn't received any emergency loan applications yet this year, but farmers and ranchers have eight months from the date of the declaration - until January in this case - to apply for loans to help cover part of their losses.
Under the program that provides compensation to eligible farmers for significant losses to noninsurable fruit and vegetable crops, the office received 24 applications countywide last year, and paid out more than $341,000, Robello said.
"You have to purchase this coverage before the crop year, sort of like car insurance, so participation is limited," he said.
Insurable crops in Hawaii are not eligible for the program, and include macadamia, papaya, coffee and banana trees, and some containerized and field-grown nursery crops.
Under the grazing losses program, the USDA received 71 applications in Maui County last year, and paid out more than $135,000.
"Even in a year that wasn't as severe, we paid out a half-million dollars through these programs," Robello said.
Last month, The Maui News reported that Upcountry agricultural operations have been hard hit by the ongoing drought.
Some said they've had to increase irrigation to their farms, supplement their feedstock and reduce or restrict herd sizes to survive.
For more information on drought assistance programs, go online to disaster.fsa.usda.gov.
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.