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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Samoa Facing Critical Water Shortage
Rainfall recorded well below average amounts

By Niccola Hazelman-Siona

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Dec. 4, 2012) – The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) has some disheartening news concerning the growing problem with Samoa’s water supply.

In an interview with Assistant CEO of the Water Resource Division of MNRE, Suluimalo Amataga Penaia relayed the bad news.

MNRE is the ministry in charge of protecting Samoa’s natural resources one of which is Lake Lanoto’o.

"The latest rainfall data we have for the Lanoto’o area which feeds the Fuluasou River is well below average (i.e. 40%). This translates to a critical situation as reflected in the current low flows and dry-up status of our rivers in the northern part of Upolu."

Suluimalo said the rest of the country "also received below average rainfall for the last three months with the exception of part of Safata and Lefaga which receive average rainfall."

"This information reflects very well the current critical status of our rivers as they depend very much only on rainfall to replenish our reserves or recharge areas that feeds them.

"The watershed at Malololelei that the ministry is progressing in its conservation and protection program starts with the eastern branch of the Fuluasou River which sources the water supply intake for the Fuluasou water treatment plant.

"The Malololei reserve is being protected from further degradation from being cleared for settlements," said Suluimalo.

[PIR editor’s note: Last month, the Samoa Water Authority called on residents to conserve water, citing poor rainfall and high usage at the Fuluasou water catchment.]

Because the Malololelei is a reserve, meaning forests Suluimalo said that "the government through the ministry plans to continue negotiations with owners of other critical areas to be reserved for our water resources."

All in all, Suluimalo put it very bluntly: "Basically our water situation is very critical as we experience the looming climate change impacts."

MNRE is asking for the people’s assistance and support in "protecting our watershed/catchment areas to capture and store as much rain as we can possibly receive throughout the year."

"At the end of the day, water availability is initially a function of climate, through rainfall; climate is changing with patterns presenting less rainfall or a lot of rainfall within a short period."

"In order to capture and store all the scarce water that is rained as well as the heavy downpours, the catchment needs to be healthy and function to regulate the flow of rivers and the rate of infiltration into the soil."

"Landowners should protect part of their lands included inside the water catchments."

A big portion of the land at Malololelei is owned by the Catholic Church and government intervened when these lands we put up for sale because of its importance as a water reserve.

"Government interferes when owners do not make that commitment, and then take the land to protect the catchments as our water reserves."

"The water catchment reserve is our natural storage of water captured from rainfall hence it is very important to our water supply and other water needs."

"If we alter our catchment reserves through development and farming modifications by clearing trees, etc that contributes to land degradation and so we can also expect our catchments to produce less water."

The key to our water problems aside from rain according to MNRE are the plants and trees.

"Trees are very important for our water reserves; they provide canopies to reduce water losses through evaporation. They improve the water storage capacity of the soil by enhancing the soil "sponge function" thus prolong soil saturation and stream flows."

"They minimize soil erosion and flood flows during heavy rain thus improve on water quality, and lots of other benefits from trees like carbon sinks to combat climate change impacts."

At the moment the MNRE Water Resource Division is responsible for developing watershed/catchment management plans for individual critical catchments, including Fuluasou, by characterizing their current environmental status for identification of problems/issues and their impacts to our water resources and the environment.

Solutions are then formulated to minimize the impacts of these problems through enforcement of effective management and mitigation actions.

These actions can be part of village by-laws which include removal of livestock from critical areas, reforestation of degraded and deserted areas, the use of chemicals, etc.

Village by-laws have also been developed and approved for some catchments as management tools to be enforced by communities in partnership with government ministries.

"MNRE thru the water sector implementing agencies (MOH, MWTI, MWSCD, LTA, SWA) are enforcing sanitation strategies/activities to safeguard our water quality and to minimize pollution to our water sources through improving sanitation and wastewater management and monitoring."

"MNRE is urging all other sectors to actively play their role in our integrated water resource management approach (IWRM) where everyone has a responsibility to water management."

"We not only need to ensure that our watershed areas are well protected, land degradation and water pollution are minimized, but also the water produced from these sites are not abused but wisely used for our necessity instead."

"One of the simplest roles our people can assist with is to reduce water demands from our catchments is to conserve water."

"There have been river cleaning programs in past years, also signboards erected at reserves and rivers asking the public to refrain from using rivers and streams as dumping grounds. SWA & MNRE are both implementing agencies of the Water Sector. MNRE deals with water resources management issues and SWA with water supply services issues."

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