The inspection is expected to add to scientists’ understanding of water quality issues in the lagoon and will help the Wastewater Project Management Unit formulate a strategy for undertaking environmental monitoring. The unit operates under the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management (MFEM).
A unit spokesman said in a statement that following meetings with interested groups and stakeholders, a literature review process had begun to identify what was “known and not known,” about environmental degradation of the lagoon.
This would be used to guide any further environmental monitoring required, and the review would be made available to the public.
The team had also visited “sizeable” properties in the Muri Lagoon area to gather information to assess possible options for the collection and disposal of effluent to an off-site location, the spokesman said.
“We will continue to assess the feasibility of this and other early mitigation measures over the next couple of months.
“The literature review process will continue until April and a summary of the outcomes will be available at the end of April or early May.”
Visual inspection of the area would assist in finding suitable locations for geological investigations, groundwater and surface water monitoring and soil sampling, the spokesman said.
“During March/April, we will be liaising with landowners to conduct this inspection and discuss installing monitoring equipment on their property.
The spokesman said different locations would be suitable for different kinds of monitoring including drilling bores to collect soil/rock core samples, installing wells to monitor and periodically sample groundwater, collecting monthly water samples from streams, collecting soil/sediment from locations across the catchment and the lagoon, and monitoring the lagoon water quality.
The equipment installed during April/May and monitoring would begin in June, he added.
This month, research is looking into possible methods of collection and disposal of effluent, and the use on the island of cleaning and agricultural products containing phosphates.
Short-term measures proposed by community members and stakeholders will also be considered and initial investigations to inform a concept design for a long-term solution for the lagoon will begin.
The Wastewater Project Mangement Unit is placing emphasis on communication with the public and the spokesman said a website would be launched at the end of March/beginning of April to share project information.
“An engagement strategy to guide the project will be developed this month. There will be multiple opportunities for the community to stay informed and input into the project. Workshops will be held at project milestones to seek community input as the project develops.”
The project to manage wastewater issues in Rarotonga and Aitutaki was launched in January, with particular focus on the impact on the lagoons. Its announcement followed a story in CI News in November, in which Financial Secretary Garth Henderson said government planned to spend $70 million on the project over a 10-year period.
He said there was “a strong awareness” that government’s data collection, research and planning over the years had not been robust or good enough to form a solid basis for planning a new sanitation system.
Henderson attributed part of the problems to government ministries working in isolation and not sharing information with other government agencies.
CI News has been publishing stories about the deterioration of the lagoon for many years, attracting the ire of the Cook Islands Tourist Corporation as far back as 2000 when details of some of the environmental issues at Muri lagoon were published. The corporation claimed that printing stories about problems in the lagoon would badly affect the tourism industry.
Late last year a marine scientist said Rarotonga’s lagoon could deteriorate beyond saving within as little as two years if nothing was done to reduce harmful run-off.