Water Authority To Be Set Up

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Posted May 24, 2018

A Crown-owned water and waste water authority is to be established in the Cook Islands as a part of the Mei Te Vai Ki Te Vai (MTVKTV) project now underway in Rarotonga.

The establishment of this authority is being led by the Cook Islands Investment Corporation (CIIC).

The core aim of the MTVKTV project is to improve the water quality in the lagoons and rivers of Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

The reticulation project is managed under the same project management unit (PMU) as Te Mato Vai.

Around 420 homes had their non-compliant waste systems upgraded to current standards in 2014. The upgrades were subsidised by Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI).

“Our natural environment is at risk, at least in part because of the current lack of adequate public sanitation infrastructure.

Without new public wastewater infrastructure and also more effective management of on-site treatment systems, the current issues at Muri are likely to worsen, and develop in other areas,” MTVKTV said in a statement.

According to Water, Waste and Sanitation Unit (WATSAN) director Jaime Short, Cook Islands residents produce 1.8 million litres of wastewater daily. Assuming there are 3000 tourists on the island at any one time, that number increases to 2.4 million litres daily.

The government has a long term goal to eventually reticulate the rest of Rarotonga’s waste systems, excluding areas only where onsite treatment is sufficient.

The MTVKTV reticulation project has multiple work streams running at the same time.

The environmental monitoring and investigation programme sets out to identify the underlying causes of the environmental issues being seen at Muri and on Aitutaki.

The investigative stage is currently being finalised, but monitoring will continue.

MTVKTV is now collating the results of their investigations and these will be published in coming months.

Short says around 95 per cent of buildings in Rarotonga are serviced by onsite wastewater treatment systems.

However, there is one community system at Tereora College. The Tereora system currently services the school and Tepuka Village. Waste flows into the stream that runs alongside the school and eventually ends up in the lagoon in Nikao, near the Social Centre.

“A high level of treatment occurs as part of this system” says Short.

Dredging and planting are just a couple examples of the “early measures” the MTVKTV project is implementing to help improve water quality and reduce seaweed growth.

“Muri is our first priority because there is pressure from population density and tourism…the lagoon environment is sensitive” the statement said.

The work was originally planned to take place in the tourist “low season” at the beginning of this year.

However, this was delayed due to the National Environment Service (NES) considering submissions on the proposed dredging of sand. The NES has since approved dredging to remove sediment from the mouth of Vai Te Renga Stream, near the Pacific Resort.

“We are now finalising a revised plan for these works. We don’t want to wait until next January to clear sediment from this area, but the original approach to the dredging work would be too disruptive to resort business and tourist activities.”

MTVKTV hopes the dredging will improve water circulation in the lagoon and enable the replenishment of sand near Nukupure Park.

MTVKTV is also charged with designing infrastructure for improved wastewater management in the long-term.

They will soon provide the government with the technical information needed to make an informed decision regarding the best infrastructure options for Muri.

“The preferred option may also then be used elsewhere around Rarotonga” the statement said.

The technical information report will also be complemented by the results of a separately-procured cultural impact assessment.

MTVKTV has also drafted a master plan, outlining the framework needed for a sanitation system to be used in the future.

It is hoped this master plan will be used to help develop a full plan for both Rarotonga and Aitutaki. The purpose of the plan is to guide future investment in sanitation infrastructure.

“It will reflect the Government’s national requirements and goals, identify key actions, their priorities and linkages, and a timeline. It will identify future project requirements and be based on information on population densities, the state of the environment in the lagoons and rivers, future land development and public health indicators” the statement said.

The project management unit’s next steps will include the progression of alternative dredging methodology, which will enable dredging at the mouth of Vai Te Renga Stream, as a part of their early mitigation measures.

They will also publish the results of their environmental investigations, seek expressions of interest for the provision of land to support the viability of a land-based wastewater disposal option, and submit a report outlining the infrastructure upgrade options for Muri, which the government will use to consider establishing a new water and wastewater authority.

“A project of this scale and impact on the community is expected to encounter a few challenges along the way.

This project is no exception, but the challenges encountered so far, for example the dredging delay, have been manageable” the statement added.

“We are committed to working with the community to understand issues, identify and evaluate alternatives and implement a solution.

“We welcome any questions and comments the community may have, and are available to provide information sessions to any community groups interested in the project.”

Source: Cook Islands NEWS