Ag Land is Key to Sustainability

Land Between Ranges Could be O’ahu’s Future Breadbasket
by Dan Nakasone

Each year the world adds nearly 80 million people. That’s 219,000 more people to feed tonight. And that will be repeated tomorrow night with another 219,000 more people to feed.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization predicts the world’s population will grow to 9 billion people by 2050, requiring 70 percent more food production. How is that going to happen when half the world’s populations live in countries where water tables are falling as aquifers are being depleted? Seventy percent of the world water use is for irrigation, and water shortages will inevitably lead to food shortages.

A perfect storm of relentless population growth, declining water resources and extreme weather events due to climate change will create an enormous demand for food. This will translate to ever increasing for one of our most basic needs. What does mean for families and seniors on fixed incomes who are already struggling to put food on the table? A Colorado University study states that all reservoirs along the Colorado River, which provides water to 27 million people in seven states, could go dry by 2057 because of climate change and overuse. A 2008 study by the University of California predicted 1-in-2 chance that these reservoirs will go dry as soon as 2021. What rarely makes headlines is that cities and towns in Colorado and California have been buying irrigation water rights from farmers and ranchers for decades. Thousands upon thousands of acres of farmland have dried up. This is happening not just in the U.S., but worldwide.

California is one of the seven states that depend on the Colorado River, and the situation is magnified because it produces nearly half the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. The gravity of the situation is now being felt with the 10-year drought along the Colorado River. And California is experiencing the driest period in the state’s recorded rainfall history, and it produces a lot of the food that is shipped to Hawaii. Here in the islands, we are facing a declining rainfall trend and continue to lose prime farmland to development. We need to preserve our farmlands to produce food for local consumption.

Currently there is legislation moving through the process to exchange parcels of Dole farmlands for urban zone lands. These farmlands could have access to the 30-mile Wahiawa Irrigation System, which includes the Lake Wilson reservoir. The primary water source flowing through the system is the Kaukonahua Stream, fed by a watershed at the head of the Ko’olau Mountain range. It is augmented with recycled wastewater and storm runoff. It does not tap into our aquifers but helps to recharge them. With biofiltration technology, we could raise the water quality to irrigate crops well into the future. The potential goes beyond irrigation: Engineers who have surveyed all the state’s reservoirs have identified Lake Wilson as having the greatest potential for hydroelectric generation. The revenue generated from the renewable energy source could go to improvements and maintenance of this irrigation system. The saddle between the Ko’olau and Waianae ranges from Wahiawa down to the North Shore is home to a growing number of farms. It could be the island’s future breadbasket, and it’s imperative that this farmland corridor be kept of food production.

We are an island state in the middle of the Pacific with finite natural resources. We must heed the warning signs and prepare for what is seemingly inevitable.

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