This cute story about Vernon "da ditch guy" Pico the other day got me thinking about Hawaii's future irrigation needs...wot with all these biofuel investors oggling our fallow cane lands (via starbulletin).
After some digging, I discovered a just-released draft of the State's ag water plan which includes some fascinating data on current ditch conditions and the irrigation outlook through 2030.
Wudja believe irrigation demand could jump by 50% if Hawaii goes for bioenergy in a big way, depending on which crop is favored.
Bear in mind that Hawaii has over 1,000 miles of irrigation ditches, yet most of this ag infrastructure is ancient and deteriorating, especially since our large sugar plantations have gone fallow.
Did I mention that part of the purpose of this study was to update our ditch condition assessment and prepare estimates of leakage.
Wudja believe most surviving irrigation systems get a condition rating of 'C' or worse, and will require gazillions of new funding to keep functioning...let alone expand.
Interestingly, check this fine print from the study:
"Projections of irrigation water demand assume that all crops will be irrigated regardless of whether irrigation water is presently available."
Actually, it seems this data oughta be in the hands of those now deciding about crops, 'cause there's a big difference in water demand between say, sugar and, say, jatropha.
In round numbers, this study notes that some 127,000 acres are 'available' and its expert-based 'Delphi' forecast says that 25-50,000 acres of this could be in bioenergy crops by 2030.
So, ya gotta ask: which bioenergy crops? This study mentions bananagrass, seed corn, sugar cane and leucaena.
Leucaena? That's an invasive!
Behind the scenes in all this planning and strategy is Hawaii's new Ag DevCorp. HIADC is, in its words, "facilitating the islands' transition to a diversified ag future, providing leadership for the development, financing, improvement and enhancement of ag enterprise."
You won't be surprise to learn that the State now owns or manages some of the bigger, older ditch systems.
And more. Here's their six arenas of strategic focus:
- Land Management
- Water System Management
- Processing Facilities
- Commodity Development
- New Farmers
BTW, HIADC is reportedly working with the UH CTAHR on an incubator for new farmers. Yeah!
Oh, and, for the record, if ya really want to know about Hawaii's ditches, ya gotta read my good friend Carol Wilcox's book, Sugar Water.
Finally, it doesn't help that yesterday all islands were declared drought disaster areas.
IMHO, this is a prime example of how we need more of a systems thinking approach.
Yeah, we got lots of land, but do we have (and will we continue to have) enough water, can we deliver it, will these bioenergy crops fit in our ecosystems, do we want to use our prime ag land in this way, and is biofuel how we want to power our mechanical systems...here in the tropics.
These are the questions we also need to be asking.