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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (February 22, 1998 - Marshall Islands Journal)--- Fresh water levels have dropped to their lowest level since the 1992 drought, causing Majuro's water company to drastically restrict water hours for the capital. There are fewer than three million gallons of water in the reservoir, or just a three day supply at current consumption levels.

As of last week, water is being turned on only on Saturdays. The once a week service replaces the previous every four day water hours.

"We haven't caught any rain since December 17," said Majuro Water and Sewer Company general manager Billy Roberts.

The stringent water hours to date have allowed MWSC to conserve a supply, though small, of fresh water in its airport reservoir. "We're quite pleased that we've coped this far," Roberts said. "It's two months and we're still getting water. Last time (1992), they ran out by the second week of January."

Water continues to be pumped at a rate of about 250,000 gallons per day from the Laura lens well. But since water users along the Laura-airport route were using most of this water, MWSC staff began on February 13 shutting off lines to individuals in an effort to increase the volume of water that gets to the airport reservoir.

Meanwhile, Roberts said that a request has been made to the Asian Development Bank to reprogram a portion of the water improvement loan that was intended to fund expansion of the Laura well system to instead allow MWSC to purchase reverse osmosis water making equipment and to repair the reservoir.

"We can cover future development at Laura from our own money," Roberts said. "With the ADB money we can reline the reservoirs to prevent leaks."

If ADB approves the reprogram request, it still may not get the reverse osmosis equipment here for this El Niño. But, said Roberts, at least it will be in reserve for future droughts.

Meanwhile, the Marshall Islands is hoping to get U.S. government aid to avert a major water crisis as the El Niño-caused drought worsens.

In response to a call for help from the Marshall Islands, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending a disaster mitigation team to the Marshalls to assist the government in applying for "hazard mitigation grant program" funds to help with water problems caused by the drought.

The Marshalls is seeking FEMA aid to purchase reverse osmosis water making equipment for Majuro and Ebeye and possibly other islands, according to Chief Secretary Phillip Kabua.

FEMA's Region IX director William L. Carwile, III, wrote Kabua that FEMA shares "your concern about the potential severity of this El Niño-induced drought and support your actions in addressing it."

Kabua told the Journal that the Cabinet was expected to declare the Marshall Islands a disaster from the effects of El Niño to assist in the effort with gaining assistance from FEMA and others.

MARSHALL ISLANDS JOURNAL Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: journal@ntamar.com Fax: 692-625-3136 Tel. 692-625-8143 Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year: US $87.00; International $227.00 (air mail)

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