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Okinawa Dodges a Bullet as Water Restrictions Postponed

Date Posted: 2004-04-01

A weekend of heavy rains in northern Okinawa spared more than 1.2 million residents a start to unpopular water rationing.

Water was to be shut off to nearly all of the island’s 415,000 households as the water levels in Okinawa’s nine reservoirs fell to nearly 42%. The restrictions would have been in effect nightly, beginning Monday, from 10pm to 6am.

Instead, nearly 4.5” [113mm] of rain fell Saturday and into early Sunday, boosting the reservoirs to 50.7% of capacity, some 37,940,000 tons of water. The key was that the rains fell in northern parts of the island, where the dams and reservoirs are situated.

That led the Okinawa Drought Countermeasure Liaison Council to hold an emergency meeting Monday morning, it’s fifth, during which they decided to postpone water restrictions.

A senior officer with Okinawa General Bureau, which oversees the dams and reservoirs, says the weekend downpours were the best Okinawa’s seen since last October 7th, when four inches of rain [104mm] was recorded.

Drought Council Officials caution, however, that water restrictions will begin by the end of April unless the island receives significant rains. Disheartening talk, say officials, but realistic since there’s not much optimism for much rain in April.

According to Okinawa’s Meteorological Observatory, some dams under the prefecture or national controls received moisture over the two days: 95mm at Yonahadake, 99mm at Oku, 24mm at Nago, and 51mm at Kin. Officials said that overall, the dams caused reservoirs to capture about 113mm in rain.

As a result, at midnight Saturday the 27th, reservoirs were at 44.7% , but by midnight Sunday, the reservoirs had filled to 50.7%. Also the total amount of water in the reservoirs rose to 334,550,000 tons.

If it doesn’t rain a lot, officials say when the water level drops under 32 million tons they will start water restrictions. That is now estimated to be about end of April. The Council is expected to convene in mid-April to weigh its options.

Twenty-nine of Okinawa’s 33 communities will have their water shut off nightly, as will most military bases and nearby Ie Island. Kunigami, Ginoza, Igashi and Ogimi Villages all have their own water supplies, and are expected to be exempt.

Should the restrictions go into effect, water on most installations will become non-potable, requiring residents to either boil water or use bottled water for cooking and drinking. Water sales were brisk at Okinawa commissaries over the weekend as families stocked up. The shelves were stripped of paper and plastic products, including plates, cups, plastic silverware and bowls.

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