Army Corps presents watershed plan to mitigate environmental risk
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — During their visit last week, officials of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Honolulu District presented to acting governor Talauega E.V. Ale and ASG officials, the American Samoa Final Post Disaster Watershed Plan, following Tropical Cyclone Gita in 2018.
Honolulu district, Chief Civil and Public Works Branch Rhiannon Kucharski, told the Senate Public Works Committee hearing last week that one of the purposes of the USACE visit was to present the final Watershed Plan, which followed a territory-wide study.
“It’s a post disaster study looking at all water resources,” she said, adding that the study provides strategic recommendations for the next 50 years, relating to those water resources.
“And it’s our commitment not just to write that plan, and hand it to you and disappear, but we want to be your partner in implementing the recommendations in that plan to help you along, with the rest of our federal family,” she said.
Kucharski acknowledged that there are challenges involved but “we want to be a part of that solution.” She also informed the committee that USACE is conducting a flood risk study in Tafuna.
“We are looking at reducing flood risk in the Tafuna and Leone plains — and helping to keep the community safe from flood events,” she said, adding that these are “some of the things that we’re actively doing and we are looking to the future with you, to understand what your priorities are and how we can help you implement solutions”.
USACE public information on its website, states that the Tafuna Flood Risk Feasibility Study — for the Tafuna-Leone Plain — is to evaluate flooding problems and identify potential flood risk reduction alternatives within the Tafuna area. And the project will identify flood risk management opportunities to reduce flood damages and increase resilience in the community of Tafuna.
The Senate hearing was called by committee chairman, Sen. Satele Lili’o Aliita’i, to get answers on USACE stop orders issued against local projects and a briefing on the purpose of the Corps visit last week to the territory.
USACE officials who attended the hearing, shared with the committee the reason for their visit, which included meetings with local ASG officials, and a look at current ongoing projects — separate from the regulatory area, pertaining to permits. (See Samoa News edition last Friday on the stop-order issues.)
For the Civil and Public Works side, Kucharski explained — in response to a committee question — that “our main mission for this trip is the completion of the watershed study” and USACE wants to meet in person with “our partners here and talk about the way ahead and what we need to do together.”
And the USACE team met with ASG departments involved and talked about “what they’re most concerned about,” she said, and noted that they met with Public Works Department, American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency and the ASG Hazard Mitigation Council, which is chaired by Lt. Gov. Talauega.
The team also met with Port Administration and took a boat ride along the shoreline of Tutuila as well as the Pago Pago harbor, looking at the water quality in the harbor.
“This trip is about partnering and listening and also trying to educate where we can assist you from our Civil and Public Works mission where we can work for you,” she said, adding that the partnership includes any technical expertise that is needed from USACE.
According to the 155-page Final Post Disaster Watershed Plan, the study was fully funded by the federal Additional Supplemental Appropriations Disaster Relief Act of 2019 (P.L. 116-20), which funds Watershed Assessment.
Funding for the assessment was provided in response to the 2018 Tropical Cyclone Gita, which generated destructive wind and torrential rainfall causing widespread power outages.
Approximately 1,000 people were evacuated to 12 shelters. Multiple mudslides occurred, uprooting many trees, and the intense rainfall caused flash flooding in low lying areas and near small streams, according to the assessment report.
The assessment recognizes and builds on the inherent resilience of Pacific Islands’ cultures developed over thousands of years of oceanic living, and “fa’aSamoa”, it says
Additionally, the intent of the assessment is to provide recommendations both within and outside of USACE authorities that will help to rehabilitate and improve the resiliency of damaged infrastructure and natural resources, reducing risks to human life and property from future natural hazards in American Samoa.
Furthermore, the assessment, “assessed the drivers of economic, social, and environmental risks through engagement with the public and other federal and territorial agencies, subject matter expert consultation, and research with the most recent reports available.”
“Natural hazards including tropical cyclones, flooding, shoreline erosion, landslides, and tsunamis negatively impact communities, the environment, and the economy in American Samoa,” the study’s “Shared Vision Statement” said.
“Many of these hazards are expected to intensify with climate change. A collaborative systems approach between stakeholders is needed to address these interrelated issues, improve watershed management, and support community resilience,” it says.
USACE worked in collaboration with local and federal agencies on the assessment, which outlined an array of recommendations, as well as steps for implementation.
Details of the Watershed Assessment report publicly released online (https://odapm.as.gov/)