Drought leaves Lake Biwa low, dry

Water curbs still needed despite recent, expected heavy rain

by Eric Johnston

OSAKA — A prolonged drought in western Japan that forced local authorities to order a reduction in water taken from Lake Biwa appears to have ended, but officials warn that water levels are still low.

With the arrival of heavy rain related to a typhoon early last week, water levels began to rise. Lake Biwa, which was down by nearly 1 meter, rose 6 cm after heavy rain hit the Kansai region Monday, meteorology officials said.

The rains came just a few days after officials decided to reduce water usage by anywhere between 5 percent and 10 percent. It had been an unusually dry summer throughout Kansai, especially Kyoto, which went 35 days straight without rainfall until Sept. 6.

Despite the recent deluge, the water shortage remains acute. Throughout last week, officials from the local office of the Construction Ministry were monitoring pumps at four Kyoto locations that draw water from Lake Biwa to ensure reduction measures are carried out.

Officials insist the water restrictions will have a minimal effect on daily water usage. However, ministry officials also warned of the possibility that the water level of Lake Biwa, down by 94 cm as of Sept. 10, could continue to drop further.

They also refused to rule out further water curbs for Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, which draw their water from the lake.

Still, with weather forecasters predicting that a lot of rain will fall in the next month or so, some whose businesses use large volumes of water are convinced the rationing is only temporary.

“It was a hot summer, but now that the weather is changing, I think the restrictions will end soon,” said Masahide Kubo, who works for an Osaka sauna.

The cut in water supply had virtually no effect on local water consumption. Despite calls for conservation efforts by some environmental groups, local governments did nothing to encourage the public to reduce their water usage.

Water usage in Japan has long been the subject of criticism from many international environmental groups, as well.

“It’s astonishing that so much fresh water in Japan is wasted for purposes like watering down the street or overwatering golf courses,” said Michelle Sheaffer, a Greenpeace representative. “Japan needs to think seriously about the importance of water conservation, especially in times of drought.”