National IWRM Diagnostic Report Cook Islands


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Publication Title

National IWRM Disgnostic Report Cook Islands

Publication Type

Diagnostic Report


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Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) offers a systematic approach to address the sustainable development, allocation and monitoring of water resources for Pacific Island Countries (PICs). The key concept of IWRM is that it provides a framework to integrate societal, economic and environmental considerations in water resource management. It recognises that all water use is interdependent and therefore should be managed in an integrated manner.

The Cook Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean between latitudes 14° S and 22° S, and longitudes 159° W and 164° W. They are a Polynesian island group comprising of 15 widely dispersed islands, surrounded by an exclusive economic zone of 1.8 million square kilometres. Like many PICs, water supply issues are dominant in the management of water resources, and attention generally has focused on the areas of greater population, mainly Rarotonga. The islands source potable water from two main sources. In the Southern Group of islands which includes the main island of Rarotonga (volcanic origin), surface water is sourced from springs and streams within catchments valleys. In the Northern Group of islands (coral atolls), water is sourced from rainwater and groundwater.

For the Cook Islands the key water resource management issues that would benefit from an IWRM approach are:

  • The lack of a legal and policy framework for water resource management. Under the present system government departments and other organisations are unsure of each others roles in the area of water resource management and there is possible duplication and/or omission of roles. It also leads to mistrust on the motives behind integration in the management of water resources.
  • Capacity building in the area of integrated management. This is not a lack of capability among people currently concerned with water management; the majority are tertiary level trained with an excellent understanding of the key water management issues. The issue is that these people are inundated with projects in many different areas related to water and there are not enough staff to take on new initiatives.
  • Poor waste water treatment in septic tank systems and the subsequent transfer of nutrients in groundwater and through into the lagoon system. Associated with this is the governance of waste water treatment coming under the Ministry of Health so that it is not treated as an environmental issue.
  • Leakage and wastage of reticulated water are major issues for Rarotonga where water supply is funded directly through government expenditure (i.e. no water charging either by volume or connection). The funding system also makes infrastructure investment vulnerable to change through political and government budgetary constraints.
  • Climatic vulnerability of water supply, particularly to drought. The simple nature of the reticulation systems on Rarotonga and Mangaia mean they are less likely to be vulnerable to flooding but they are vulnerable to drought. Water demand management can help lessen the demand but there is still a need to hedge supply sources against extremely low flows in the source streams.
  • Land use practices affecting stream water quality, and indirectly the lagoon. This is particularly a problem for piggeries adjacent to streams. There is also a concern over wetland taro cultivation above water supply sources.
  • The land use tenure system is detrimental to agricultural investment in water smart irrigation systems and other technology that might lessen agriculture’s water impact.


See also

Cook Islands

External Resources



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