By: Manu Kala
Due to rainfall shortages, Upcountry Maui residents since July 2nd, have been prohibited from using water for non-essential activities like watering the lawn and washing a car in the driveway. This the second time within a year that the area is being impacted by a water shortage, and officials said it is due to an increase in water usage with no rain in sight.
When it is drier, residents use more water than when its dry. In the wetter months and the wetter periods Maui residents use as low as five million gallons a day Upcountry, but during drier times, the amount used rises to nearly eight million gallons a day Upcountry.
Maui County has two main wells Upcountry that hold 50 million gallons each. At the beginning of July, the wells were below 50% capacity. Some rain helped push one reservoir from 45% to 60% capacity, but 60% still is not enough.
Maui intends to keep the restrictions in place because there is no rain forecasted soon. The National Weather Service said drought conditions could get worse over the next few months. By the September timeframe West Molokai and the island of Maui will be in some levels of extreme drought conditions. Not only will this mean lack of water, but increased likelihood of brush fires. Rain is likely to return to the area in November 2021 but the months before that have a high probability for being difficult and frustrating.
It is difficult to tell Maui businesses recovering from the pandemic to stop using water. Businesses and residents who do not comply with the restrictions can face a $500 fine or have their water meter taken away. The directive says residents are supposed to use water only for normal uses; but for businesses, no golf courses can use water for irrigation.
Water restrictions on Maui are troubling for various reasons indeed. Chief amongst them is that Maui is restricting water use when two of the ten wettest spots on Earth are located on Maui. According to an Escape article in March 2021, the mountain peak of Puu Kukui on Maui is the 9th wettest place on earth. Coming in at the 7th wettest spots is Big Bog. Despite being subjected to constant rain, Big Bog is a major tourist attraction on Maui because of its lush scenery. The amazing precipitation at Big Bog is caused by easterly trade winds that bring moisture from the Pacific up against Maui’s steep mountainside. The 8th wettest spot is not on Maui but is also in Hawaii – Mount Waialeale on Kauai. Mount Waialeale name means “overflowing water”. The rain around this extinct volcano is so wet and slippery that access is extremely difficult. Researchers believe that the peak’s conical shape makes it so rainy. In 1912, Mount Waialeale saw a record 683 inches of rain. How is it that Hawaii, where water is an abundant resource, is short water?
The answer to that question can be seen in a comparison between Maui and the wettest place on Earth – India. Climate change is bringing rising sea levels and increased flooding to some cities around the world and drought and water shortages to others. For the 11 million inhabitants of Chennai, India it is both flooding and drought.
India’s sixth-largest city gets an average of about 1,400mm (55 inches) of rainfall a year, more than twice the amount that falls on London and almost four times the level of Los Angeles. Yet in 2019 it hit the headlines for being one of the first major cities in the world to run out of water—trucking in 10 million liters a day to hydrate its population. This year, it had the wettest January in decades.
Tamil Nadu, the state of which Chennai is the capital, predicts in its climate change action plan that the average annual temperature will rise 3.1°C by 2100 from 1970-2000 levels, while annual rainfall will fall by as much as 9%. Worse still, precipitation during the June-September southwest monsoon, which typically brings the steady rain needed to grow crops and refill reservoirs, will reduce while the flood-prone cyclone season in the winter will become more intense. That could mean worse floods and droughts.
While climate change and extreme weather have played a part, the main culprit for Chennai’s water woes is poor planning on many levels. Floods, drought, and sanitation are all interlinked. The Tamil Nadu government says it is addressing the problem. In 2003, it passed a law requiring all buildings to harvest rainwater. The rule helped raise the water table, but the gains were soon eroded by a lack of maintenance. Efforts to recharge groundwater have also struggled to offset the volume of water being extracted through boreholes or private wells.
Now, the government is pursuing a new approach inspired by the city’s past. The Greater Chennai Corporation is supporting an initiative called City of 1,000 Tanks, a reference to the ancient man-made lakes that were built around temples.
Supported by the Dutch government and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the plan is to restore some temple tanks and build hundreds of new ones with green slopes throughout the city to absorb and filter heavy rains, recharge the groundwater, and store water for use during dry months.
Maui has two of the wettest places on Earth, but what is being done to store that water for use when there actually is a drought? Like in Chennai, not much of anything. At $97 billion in debt, Hawaii Democrats have consistently diverted Maui water management money to other state projects or worse, to their own pockets. For the sake of present wealth and continued, Hawaii Democrats have sacrificed the future, repeatedly. Now one of the wettest places on Earth has no water. Maui has water! Water everywhere…but not one drop to drink, thanks to Democrats.