Liberia: EPA Backtracks on Cause of Kpatawee’s Flood Disaster

Flood overtakes the entire Kpatawee Waterfall community in Bong County

— Releases comprehensive report

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has backtracked on its initial findings that the heavy flooding that overwhelmed the Kpatawee Waterfall in Bong County was a result of ‘illicit mining’ activities around the waterfall.

The agency has instead attributed the cause of the disaster to the inundating waters of the St. Paul River via its tributaries.

Kpatawee Waterfall resort, one of Liberia’s natural beauties and tourist destinations, was partly submerged early this month, posing severe public safety and environmental threats to visitors and residents of surrounding communities. 

The devastating flood washed away accommodations and crops. Though the incident was attributed to climate change, environmental inspectors from the EPA, in a preliminary investigation, reported that the flooding was human-induced.

They disclosed that illicit mining activities taking place upstream caused the waterfall to overflow. Illicit miners are noted for damming and diverting water bodies. The EPA Inspectors also observed that channels around a rice field near the waterfall are blocked, making it difficult for the water to flow freely when it rains.

But an intra-agency investigative team constituted by EPA Executive Director, Wilson K. Tarpeh, to further probe the cause of last weekend’s flooding at the resort, has revealed that the actual cause of the disaster at the waterfall and surrounding communities was as a result of heavy rainfalls. 

In its comprehensive investigative report released on Thursday, September 21, the investigative team, headed by the agency’s Department of Compliance and Enforcement, noted: “Following the investigation, the team concluded that torrential rains in several parts of Liberia continue to result in different waves of flooding impacts, as observed between August and September.”

“This has also been the case of the Kpatawee wetland, where inundated waters of the St. Paul River via its tributaries resulted in overflow and subsequently elevated levels of the Kpatawee waterfall and creek beyond normal flow patterns.

“This was further exacerbated because of the limitation of free flow downstream of Kpatawee as the result of obstruction caused by inter-grown trees and a narrow channel, and hence the deposition of detrital materials.” 

The EPA was however quick to point out that the findings from the initial report from preliminary assessment of the situation conducted on September 5, was mostly observatory and based on random interviews with affected parties.

The findings of the comprehensive report, the agency disclosed, will now lead to the initiation of remedial actions.

Another factor that caused the flooding, the EPA said, was the damage to the irrigation pipe constructed for water supply and control.

The Agency said that there is a lack of real-time online hydro-meteorological monitoring of the St. Paul River to serve as an alert for early warning and detection, which could have helped minimize the impact of the flood situation and avert future flood occurrences.

The EPA has asked the management of Jalk Enterprise, which operates the resort around the waterfall, to develop an environmental management plan for this riparian ecosystem by hiring a third-party independent environmental consultant.

The management plan should also include separate studies for the widening of the channel to ensure the free flow of water downstream, the EPA mandated.

Jalk Enterprise is a service firm that entered into a caretaker agreement with the local government to manage Kpatawee as a tourist site for picnicking, meetings, workshops, retreats, among other recreational activities. 

The Agency also recommended that Jalk Enterprise works in collaboration with the county administration, the Ministry of Agriculture, and community dwellers to ensure timely repair of the damaged irrigation pipe and open the water channel to the rice field.

According to the EPA, the repair of the pipe will assist in redirecting the future occurrence of flood water from accumulating at Kpatawee to other low-lying land, as was usually done in the past.

The EPA is also recommending that the Ministry of Mines and Energy Hydrological Services Division construct a real-time water monitoring station at Kpatawee, considering its potential as a tourist designation and a major RAMSAR site of international importance.