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Majuro sewage problem ongoing for decades

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MAJURO — Raw sewage spews onto Majuro’s ocean side reef from a broken outfall pipe that has gone unfixed for decades, said the head of the Marshall Islands Environmental Protection Authority.

EPA General Manager Moriana Phillip expressed concern about the lack of government action to address the sewage outfall, from which nearly one million gallons per day of raw effluvia flows into the ocean close by populated areas of Majuro Atoll.

Over two decades ago, a 200-foot pipe carried the raw sewage out from land and beyond the reef. But age, salt water, and ocean currents have all combined to chip it away the pipe to almost nothing. For years, sewage has been flowing out directly on the 100-foot wide reef flat, causing algae blooms and killing coral.

People fish and swim on nearby ocean side reefs, perhaps unaware of the sewage pumped onto the reef.

Over the years, officials from Majuro Water and Sewer Company and the EPA have tried to get high-level attention to the problem, and funding for a major overhaul of the sewage system in Majuro. It hasn’t produced a result, Phillip said.

 

 

An ocean side reef in Majuro that is down-current from the outfall pipe where raw sewage is dumped directly on the reef shows a blight of brown algae covering the reef at low tide in this file photo. Photo by Giff Johnson.

 “Close to a million gallons of raw sewage is released into the near-shore marine environment from the sewer outfall because the outfall is broken,” said Phillip. “It's been broken for so long.”

By the water agency’s calculation, it pumps 920,000 gallons of raw sewage per day onto the ocean side reef. That’s over 335 million gallons of untreated sewage annually going directly onto the reef.

 “This is the third year in a row that I’ve brought all the data on the sewer outfall to the (parliament) budget hearings,” said Phillip after participating in the Appropriations Committee’s budget review. “It’s been broken for 20 years. It’s still a problem and we don’t know who will fix it.”

She said every year, she receives the same answer: “We’re looking for funding.”

Coupled with this is Majuro’s solid waste crisis that will only see a temporary reprieve when a small new landfill area next to the current dump is available for use.

Additionally, there is no garbage pickup for a third of Majuro’s 30,000 people who live past the international airport and even for downtown, over 10 years after household garbage bins were distributed there are many more residents who don’t have bins to use. The existing ones often get used by multiple families, fill quickly and become a pollution problem before the next pickup, Phillip pointed out.

It’s obvious why there is deterioration in water quality in both ocean and lagoon, and diversity of corals is declining as they die from pollution, she said.

The southern reef near the sewage outfall is dead from the sewage, she said. Add to sewage the garbage that is routinely tossed into the lagoon and ocean by residents who have no collection system or means to transport their waste to the dump. “Are we worried about the safety of fish (people eat)?” Phillip asked. 

Both the sewage and solid waste systems are in crisis, and they affect everyone. But, she added, no one is talking about them.

 

 

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