MPs attend intake tour

Friday 27 November 2020 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in Local, National

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MPs attend intake tour
Landowners, Opposition Member of Parliament, and Government officials during Thursday’s tour of the Avatiu Valley intake. 20112626

Elected officials and landowners were given a tour of the Avatiu intake on Thursday where trials are underway to test the recently completed water treatment system, but one opposition MP wasn’t impressed with what she saw.

Landowners and Members of Parliament from the Opposition Democratic Party were given a tour of Avatiu Intake to showcase the level of progress of Rarotonga’s water infrastructure upgrades.

The tour was led by Te Mato Vai officials and individuals from New Zealand engineering firm, GHD, which is contracted to manage the $100 million project.

During the tour, attendees were shown the infrastructure and equipment that combines to form the water treatment plant that has begun delivering Rarotonga’s cleaner water.

But the tour, held before Parliament’s expected one-day sitting today, failed to impress Opposition MP Selina Napa.

At the Avatiu site, water is collected at a recently constructed dam before entering a settling chamber, where dirt and other unwanted particles are removed. The water then moves through a sand filter before entering storage tanks.

Disinfection equipment is on site, however the government has yet to make a decision on a method and currently is not part of the treatment process. While the treated water is cleaner, it isn’t drinkable.

Nine out of 10 intakes are undergoing trials where a chemical called polyaluminium chloride, or PACl, is added to the settlement chambers to remove small dirt particles and other contaminants found in water, such as bird droppings.

Project officials said an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is underway to assess the effects of PACl usage, and how it will be safely disposed.

Commenting after the tour, MP Sel Napa said she wasn’t convinced that using PACl was the best choice for consumers.

Napa said the answers provided by officials during the tour didn’t adequately explain how PACl sludge and the by-product from sand filtration will be disposed in an environmentally responsible manner.

“This is a major inland development that will affect our water supply, our streams that flow out to sea. Why didn’t this government first obtain an EIA? Everyone seems to be avoiding that question and ducking for cover,” said the Titikaveka MP, who is a board member of the Rarotonga Environment Authority and sits on the select committee for the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill.

“The EIA has a critical purpose of protecting our environment and the welfare of our people,” she added.

During the tour, Te Mato Vai officials said they are currently testing at multiple points in the catchment areas to assess levels of aluminum – an element that already exists naturally in Rarotonga’s freshwater streams.

In some instances, GHD’s project manager Peter Free said aluminum levels have been found to be lower downstream from settlement chambers where PACl is added, compared to further upstream before the water undergoes any treatment.

Officials also fielded questions about the management of catchment valleys.

Deputy project manager Matt Boyd said the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill – which is currently with a select committee that has yet to produce its final report – will contain provisions that allow for the setup of committees that will be tasked with stewardship of the ten catchment areas on the island.

“That’s the job of the landowners and the caretakers of each individual valley, to look after that catchment and figure out ways to control what you’re saying,” he said.

Also in attendance were Mangaia MPs Agnes Armstrong, Tetangi Matapo, and Wesley Kareroa, as well as government officials from Infrastructure Cook Islands and the Ministry of Marine Resources.

A last-minute Cabinet meeting prevented the Prime Minister and a number of Cabinet ministers from attending the tour.

During Friday’s Parliament sitting, it is expected the To Tatou Vai Authority Bill’s select committee will seek adjournment, and delay submission of its final report.

                - Check out Saturday’s edition of Cook Islands News for our feature on the Te Mato Vai water infrastructure project.