Okinawa officials to mull alternatives before considering water rationing
NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa is dry and there’s little relief in sight.
The average level of water in island reservoirs has dropped to 52.5 percent, the lowest since 1987, according to the Okinawa Drought Countermeasures Council, which held an emergency meeting Wednesday.
During the meeting, officials examined statistics that showed rainfall was average in February, but it was not enough to compensate for a dry autumn. Also, rainfall in northern Okinawa, where most of the island’s reservoirs are located, was just 51 percent of the monthly average.
And despite calls from Okinawa officials to conserve water, the demand for February so far — almost 500,000 cubic meters — has exceeded usage for February 2003.
The council will ask for major users of water to take further steps at conservation, including U.S. and Japanese military bases and factories such as Orion Beer brewery, said Masaaki Mantoku, the council’s spokesman and senior engineer for the Okinawa General Bureau, which manages the island’s six national dams
Earlier this month U.S. bases imposed restrictions on the use of water by placing a ban on the washing of personal cars and car washes held as fund-raisers.
“The members of the council recognized that the current water condition is becoming an alarming situation,” Mantoku said.
“The current situation bears a close resemblance to the one in 1989, when Okinawa was hit by a serious drought,” he said.
In February in 1989, the island’s water valves were shut off for eight hours at night for seven days, and then for 24 hours every other day for 52 days.
The island also rationed water in 1994 when the water supply was suspended for eight hours a night for 28 days.
Since the drought of 1989, two new reservoirs were built on Okinawa, increasing water reserve capacity by 20 percent, Mantoku said.
“The demand, however, has increased by 13 percent,” he said. “With no refill from rain, current water reserve levels at the major reservoirs are sinking by 0.4 to 0.5 percent each day.”
Mantoku said rationing was not seriously discussed at Wednesday’s meeting.
“We believe there are still things we can do before advocating water rationing,” he said.
Mantoku said turning the water valves off for eight hours a day could relieve the situation, but “would have a tremendous negative impact on society, which we want to make every effort to avoid.”
The recent dry weather is the major cause of the scare water reserves, he said.
“The total rainfall last year was the 16th lowest of the past 112 years,” he said.
And the dry times are likely to continue, said an official with the Okinawa Meteorological Observatory.
“Precipitation for the coming month is forecast to be about 142 millimeters (about 5.7 inches) in Nago,” said a weather forecaster of the observatory.
Nago is located in northern Okinawa, where most of the dams are located.
“We do not expect any substantial rainfall until May,” he said.