Recent rains fail to put a dent in Okinawa's water woes
January 7, 2006
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — It’s been wet on Okinawa for more than a week, but not enough to ease fears of a looming water shortage.
It rained 2.6 inches last weekend in northern Okinawa, according to Seijun Irei, a weather forecaster at the Okinawa Meteorological Observatory. But that closed December’s rainfall at 4.02 inches, just 78 percent of that month’s annual average.
Most of the island’s 10 water reservoirs are in northern Okinawa. Precipitation in southern Okinawa was 2.24 inches, bringing December’s total to 4.41 inches, 89 percent of the average.
“The amount of rain is slightly catching up but still not enough to solve the current low rainfall trend,” Irei said.
“And precipitation for January is expected to be either average or less,” he added. “Even if rain falls as forecast, we cannot expect the current water situation be significantly improved.”
Okinawa officials are expected to meet later this month to discuss whether to start a water conservation campaign and begin planning for water rationing later this spring. Rationing planned in March 2004 was postponed only due to a storm that dumped 4.52 inches of rain just a week before the deadline to turn off island water taps eight hours a night.
U.S. military bases on Okinawa had gone into voluntary rationing earlier that year. Water rationing on Okinawa was last imposed island-wide in 1994 when taps were turned off eight hours per night for 28 days.
Last month, the Okinawa Drought Countermeasures Council decided to monitor reservoir levels closely over the next few months. The first step in any water conservation campaign would be to ask islanders to restrict usage voluntarily. Water conservation on U.S. bases usually begins by urging residents to refrain from washing cars, lawns and laundry.
Reservoir levels Thursday were at 54.2 percent of capacity, according to the council. The situation is eased slightly because a new reservoir at Haneji went online in April, adding about 4.12 billion gallons capacity. The accumulated water level at the nine pre-existing reservoirs Thursday was at 47.3 percent of capacity, well below the 82.2 percent annual average for January.
Meanwhile, Okinawa isn’t the only island in the Ryukyu chain to experience water woes. Drought has drained the reservoir on Zamami Island to below 25 percent of capacity, forcing water taps to be closed every other day. Some water is being ferried in from Okinawa.
In 2003 Zamami, about 25 miles west of Naha in the Kerama Island group, went through rationing measures that turned off water 12 hours a day for 325 straight days.