An Oahu Farm Uses Science to Combat Drought Conditions

Dr. Harry Ako
Dr. Harry Ako
Alan Umaki
Alan Umaki

WAIALE'E, Oahu (KHNL) -- As drought conditions continue throughout the state, the agricultural industry is one of the hardest hit in Hawaii. A north shore farm uses science to save water.

Water is a scarce resource on Oahu, and throughout the state.

"There's no water on Oahu anymore, and all you need to do is apply for an aquaculture permit and they're just going to sit on it," said Dr. Harry Ako, a biochemist with the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

But it's a much-needed commodity in the agriculture industry. This farm on Oahu's north shore is doing what it can with this water bio-remediation system.

"It saves a whole lot of water," said Ako. "The one we have at Mokule'ia, the guy's water bill was $900 a month. And then, it went down to zero."

Rain, cow manure, and other runoff collect in a deep well. Solids settle at the bottom, and residual water gets pumped into these carbon tanks.

From there, it gets piped over to this nitrogen tank, where nitrate-rich water comes out here, and back into the farm.

"The system has improved the cleanliness of the environment around the farm," said Alan Umaki, a manager who has been working at the farm since 1982. "We've really reduced the manure runoff in the pasture."

A few years ago, this was considered a good business decision. Now, it's become a necessity.

"As far as agriculture, if you don't recycle, they will tell you to shut your business down, period," said Ako.

And farmers feel better about their industry, knowing they're doing their part to conserve water.

"It's much better that the water doesn't just go back out and go down the drain," said Umaki. "It's being recycled."

Recycling precious water during drought season.

Farms are now under tremendous pressure to use recycled water, or risk being shut down by the state. A similar system is on its way to Maui to remediate sugar cane waste.