Penrhyn water shortage continues

Friday 24 August 2018 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Outer Islands


A second shipment of drinking water was sent to Penrhyn this week as residents continue to battle a water-shortage problem on the northern-group island.

On Wednesday, the government directed another 100,000 litres of water to Penrhyn to provide relief to residents in the coming months.

In July, the first shipment of 100,000 litres of drinking water was sent to the island, which has been facing a dry spell since June.

Office of the Prime Minister chief of staff Bredina Drollet said water levels remain at critical levels for the community on the island.

She said the situation had been manageable over the past two months since the first shipment of 100,000 litres of water, due to the reduced population.

But with people from Penrhyn now returning home after Te Maeva Nui celebrations and the weather outlook indicating below-average rainfall in the coming months, the water shortage issue is expected to worsen.

“The returning Te Maeva Nui tere will put more stress on the water capacity, particularly on the larger of the two populated motu, Omoka,” Drollet said.

“A more favourable position for rainfall is not expected to fall over the northern islands until November/December (our cyclone season).”

The initial shipment of water in June cost the government $77,000 and included the purchase of four 25,000 litres tanks. These four tanks will help increase water storage on the low-lying atolls of Tetautua and Omoka.

Drollet said the June shipment was funded out of the contingency reserve – an appropriation available for urgent and unforeseen circumstances.

The cost of the additional 100,000 litres of water shipped on Wednesday came to $33,000.

“The cost is lower than the shipment in June as the water will be transported in the barge’s internal water storage units and not in separate water tanks,” Drollet said.

At this stage, she said there were no further shipments immediately expected, adding that any further shipments would be dependent on rainfall.

Metrological Service director Arona Ngari said Penrhyn was in the neutral or La Nina phase of the global climate cycle, which means the chance of getting a decent rainfall on the island in the coming days was “pretty slim”.

“There will be odd showers passing through but nothing decent enough until the rainy spell in November,” Ngari said.

Meanwhile, community water tank repairs, funded by German development agency GIZ, have commenced this week. Drollet said there were water resource advisors on Penrhyn overseeing the project.

She said consideration was being given to the use of aquifers as a potential small-scale desalination solution.

“Some assessment is being explored to look at potential water galleries, but as Penrhyn is a low-lying atoll, the fresh water lens is shallow and there will always be risk of sea water intrusion, particularly if such galleries are relied on as a main source of water.”

Penrhyn is the most northerly of the Cook Islands, with a population of just 130 people.