Officials warn dry winter could force water rationing
NAHA, Okinawa — A relatively dry December has officials worried water rationing may be in store for the island during the coming months.
Long dry spells are worrisome to Okinawa officials who manage the island’s water reservoirs, said Seishun Shinjo, assistant chief of the Water Supply Section of the Okinawa Prefectural Enterprise Bureau.
A review of the island’s nine reservoirs Friday showed cached water was at 63.8 percent of capacity, 20 percent lower than last January.
“The situation is quite tight,” said Shinjo said, whose department manages prefectural reservoirs and monitors another six national reservoirs.
“There has been very little rainfall since December,” he said. “We will hold a meeting of the Okinawa Drought Countermeasure Council next week to discuss what should be done to cope with the situation.”
The last time water was rationed here was for a 31-day period in early 1994.
New reservoirs and a water de-salinization plant built since then have pre-empted rationing, but every couple of years a dry winter makes officials nervous.
“The water level at reservoirs now is the lowest for January in the past 10 years,” said Kiyomitsu Toyama, assistant chief of the Water Supply Management Office of the Okinawa General Bureau, a Tokyo government agency that manages six national reservoirs on the island.
“It is unlikely that we need to start water rationing right away,” he said. “However, we will keep monitoring the three factors — rainfall prediction, demand, and water levels — to see if any action needs to be taken.”
Each dry day results in a drop of the water levels at the reservoirs, he said.
“Without rain, the level continues to drop by 0.3 percent to 0.4 percent each day,” he said. “The main cause for this is the dry spells that dominated our weather last year.
“We need to somehow make it through until rainy season comes,” Toyama said. “Until then, we must ask everyone to remember once again the importance of conserving water.”
Already, rationing has been put into effect on some of the prefecture’s smaller, flatter, outer islands. The reservoir on Zamami is only 25 percent of capacity and the public water is turned on just 10 hours a day.
Total rainfall in 2003 was 71 percent of the average annual precipitation, according to the Okinawa Meteorological Observatory.
“It was especially small in December,” said Junji Tamaki, a weather forecaster at the weather bureau. “The total rainfall last month was 60 millimeters (about 2.4 inches), just 60 percent of an average December rainfall of 107.0 millimeter (4.2 inches).”
The good news, Tamaki said, is that weather forecasters expect about average rainfall for the coming months.
The observatory expects about 4.4 inches of rain this month, well within the 30-year average of 4.1 inches.
The predictions for February and March are just shy of the averages of 3.75 and 3.85 inches, respectively.