2008 Water Conservationists honored for efforts

PUA LOKE — Jerry Ornellas and Carolyn O’Connell have a common goal of working toward reducing their usage of county water for their respective projects.

The pair were recognized for their efforts by being awarded the 2008 Water Conservationist of the Year awards by the Soil & Water Conservation District in partnership with the county’s Department of Water. Ornellas of Agland Management was presented the award from the East Kaua‘i SWCD and O’Connell, representing Kukui‘ula Development Co., accepted the award from the West Kaua‘i SWCD.

When the banana bunchy top virus forced Jerry Ornellas to change crops, his irrigation system had to be modified.

Longan replaced the banana and with that came a revisit to the irrigation system supplying water to the original banana crops.

Spacing of longan trees is wider than that for bananas so Ornellas removed every other emitter, replacing it with a plug.

But time took its toll on the irrigation system and leaks developed where the plugs replaced original emitters.

Ornellas, working with the Soil & Water Conservation Board, installed an improved irrigation system drawing water from the East Kaua‘i Water User’s Coop’s Lateral Ditch No. 8.

This new system helps reduce erosion and seepage while improving irrigation water management efficiency. Pressure-compensating emitters are utilized to provide an even application of water through a wide range of pressures which vary from 20 to 60 psi on the farm.

But in addition to the new irrigation, Ornellas is active in irrigation water management, using a spreadsheet to track rainfall and irrigation records which are evaluated in combination with the crop’s water needs and soil type for water retention.

“You know farmers,” Ornellas said. “We hate keeping records.”

But the spreadsheet records are key in determining when irrigation is needed. Additionally, Ornellas tracks crop stage, appearance and weather conditions in order to calibrate the irrigation system to his longan crop.

“We will be working with Jerry on visual soil-moisture monitoring to reduce the occurrence of deep percolation losses and refine his irrigation scheduling,” said Sara Bowen of the SWCD.

Ornellas took the new irrigation system one step further by planting a leguminous conservation cover in the orchard and mulching his trees to conserve moisture and reduce weed control requirements.

He currently is planting windbreaks to reduce wind speed and improve irrigation applications. He is also working with NRCS on Nutrient Management for his crops.

“This is a multi-generational effort that started with my dad back in the 60’s when he got a similar award,” Ornellas said in accepting the award from Ted Inouye, chairman of the SWCD.

Kukui‘ula Development Company uses non-potable water for its irrigation of the golf course and common area landscaping.

Decades of sugar cane production on lands affords Kukui‘ula the unusual luxury of being able to access an almost unlimited source of non-potable irrigation water through a distribution agreement between A&B Hawai‘i and Kukui‘ula Development.

The source of the non-potable water originates in Lawai Valley and flows through a series of reservoirs and piped systems ending in a pump station near Aepoeha Reservoir.

From that point, water flows through a main transmission line to a “T” where it is distributed to the golf course and common area landscaping.

The majority of the golf and common area landscape will be irrigated with this water which all but a few areas being gravity fed. Pumps will not be used unless total water demand requires it.

Current technology in irrigation for the golf course irrigation will maximize control and efficiency of irrigation water. The irrigation design will utilize weather data collected from on-site weather stations and local area weather stations to determine evapotranspiration for the turf.

Sprinkler spacing, nozzle types and designs will be geared toward maximum efficiency. Additionally, a golf course irrigation computer program will help the course superintendant in irrigation scheduling, pump efficiency and record keeping.

“The Department of Water appreciates the services and efforts of the winners in preserving and using water wisely,” said Wynne Ushigome, the Acting Manager and Chief Engineer for the DOW.

Each year, the Soil & Water Conservation District recognizes a Kaua‘i farmer or organization who makes an outstanding contribution to the conservation of water by using an alternative source, applying an innovative technique or making improvements to increase efficiency in an existing system.

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