Pioneering Laura water study

Nicky Komanta and Jo-Jikum Director Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, who collaborated on the groundbreaking water survey in Laura village. Photo: Mark Stege.

MARK STEGE

Laura village resident Nicky Komanta went house to house mapping and monitoring salinity levels in private groundwater wells in his neighborhood over a seven-month period ending in November. Doing this, he established a baseline of scientific data across 240 private wells that his community leaders can use to demonstrate future impacts of sea level rise to their precious freshwater resources.

“The hardest part was time management,” says Nicky who is also a spear fisherman and integral member of his family. “I invited my friends who are really interested in helping me with the project to wake me up every morning. It worked, and together with my friends we completed the project.”

This is the first time Nicky’s community has been able to do this, thanks to training provided by the RMI EPA Water Quality Division and US State Department Embassy Science Fellows Program, as well as grant funds from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the National Nuclear Commission (NNC).

The NNC joined in the learning experience by providing timely funding support which allowed Nicky to keep working for an additional eight weeks, just long enough to allow Jo-Jikum to finish up the project within their extended timeline. “We are interested in groundwater monitoring activities that build local capacity and agency,” says NNC Secretary Keyoka Kabua. The combined $29,750 grant funding was awarded to the non-profit organization Jo-Jikum working in partnership with the Majuro Atoll Local Government (MALGov).

Together, Jo-Jikum and MALGov convened workshops with the youth of Laura and with members of the Laura Lens Committee (LLC).

The LLC was founded in 2013 by the Integrated Water Resources Management Project administered by the Pacific Community (SPC), with the aim to demonstrate “community water committees” as called for in the National Water and Sanitation Policy endorsed by Cabinet in 2014, as well as the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) which was amended by Nitijela in 2016 to include groundwater resources. According to the Bill Summary of the NEPA 2016 amendment, “the protection of groundwater and other water resources of the Republic is critically important to providing an essential fresh water supply for the growing population demands of the nation. This is especially true in the face of climate change.”

Noting that the NEPA 2016 amendment added on the duties of groundwater monitoring to the RMI EPA, Jo-Jikum and MALGov worked closely with RMI EPA throughout the pilot project in Laura.

During the LLC workshop, traditional leaders and local government council members reviewed Nicky’s salinity survey findings, commenting on its connectivity to their own memories and observations of the groundwater in Laura. The LLC also reviewed draft bylaws for continued coordination with the RMI EPA and the Majuro Water and Sewer Company (MWSC), inclusive of community-based scientific monitoring and communication activities.

Nicky was also invited by RMI EPA Water Quality Division Chief Tuvuki Ketedromo to present his work at another workshop convened recently by the National Disaster Management Office with neighboring island representatives from across the RMI. Following Nicky’s presentation, several of the representatives asked that they be trained and equipped to replicate the groundwater monitoring piloted in Laura village.

“There is a very clear and present need to enhance environmental data collection services by a number of stakeholders, and also a desire to engage communities in a meaningful way,” said EPA General Manager Moriana Phillip. “Nicky is helping us prove that international researchers and national regulatory and enforcement agencies can get dependable data from a well trained community member.”

Nicky was recently hired as a Water Quality Monitor by the MWSC, whose Acting General Manager Libotha Maddison commented that “the capacity built around groundwater salinity data really caught the LLC’s attention, and generated greater understanding of and commitment to future monitoring of the groundwater lens.”

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