Marines dump water onto Col. Matthew Danner, commander of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, during a fundraiser at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, April 28, 2023.

Marines dump water onto Col. Matthew Danner, commander of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, during a fundraiser at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, April 28, 2023. (Elijah Murphy/U.S. Marine Corps)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — With the rainy season three months away and Okinawa’s reservoirs already running low, the local government is urging the island’s U.S. military population to conserve water.

Okinawa’s 11 reservoirs are at half their capacity, on average, when they should be more than three-quarters full, according to a spokesman from Okinawa’s Prefectural Enterprise Bureau, which manages the island’s water supply.

Service members are asked to monitor water usage closely, to not leave water running and to refrain from watering lawns and washing cars.

Conservation now may spare stricter measures later, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Installations Pacific, 2nd Lt. Kelsey Enlow, told Stars and Stripes by email Friday.

“We hope everyone is responsible with their water on the front end, so restrictions don’t have to go in place on the back end,” she said.

According to the enterprise bureau spokesman, the reservoirs together were 26.8% lower than average for Feb. 9; for the past 10 years, they averaged 77.4% full.

“We are doing everything we can to maintain the water level in the reservoirs, so we do not have to place restrictions on the water supply,” he said by phone Thursday.

“It is difficult to predict if we need to implement restrictions,” he said. “It depends on rainfall and the amount of water people use.”

It’s customary in Japan for some government officials to speak to media on condition of anonymity.

The prefectural government contacted the Marines informally to discuss how the bases could reduce water usage, Enlow said.

“From those discussions, we are working to send out messages and infographics to our Marines” on ways they can reduce water usage, she said. “Currently, there are no restrictions to water usage” at U.S. bases on Okinawa.

Nine of the 11 dams that provide Okinawa with drinking water are overseen by the national government; the prefecture maintains the remining two. The island also has the Seawater Desalination Center in Chatan, near Camp Foster.

Okinawa is composed primarily of coral and does not hold water as well as soil does. Its main water supply is its reservoirs, desalination plant, typhoons and the annual six-week rainy season, which typically lasts from mid-May to late-June.

As of Friday morning, the nine government-run dams were at 50.8% capacity, the prefectural Kurashiki dam at 48.1% and Yamashiro dam at 50.5%, according to the enterprise bureau.

The 2023 rainy season provided far less rainfall than above-average seasons in 2021 and 2022.

Naha, the prefectural capital, saw 18.4 inches between May 18 and June 24, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. That was far below the 42.2 inches that fell during the same period in 2022.

In Nago, 16.6 inches fell between May 18 and June 24, well below the 47.4 in 2022.

Only one significant rain occurred on Okinawa last summer. Typhoon Khanun, which passed the island twice between Aug. 1 and Aug. 10, filled the island’s reservoirs to near capacity, but no significant amount of rain has fallen since then.

“We want to be good guests to our hosts on Okinawa,” Enlow said. “We encourage our Marines to use water responsibly.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.
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Mari Higa is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in 2021. She previously worked as a research consultant and translator. She studied sociology at the University of Birmingham and Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of Social Sciences.

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