A SERIES of mishaps at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) over the past few days has led Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte to invoke Murphy’s law, which holds that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Yet, WASA’s problems stem not from bad luck and pure coincidence but rather years of neglect. If anything, events over the past week underline the unacceptable vulnerability of our water supply system – which is one of our most critical pieces of infrastructure.
For sure, a misshapen series of events occurred which would try even the most prepared systems analysts. A breakdown at Desalcott removed 45 million gallons – 20 per cent of total water production – from the system. A mechanical failure at the El Socorro booster plant removed a further 30 million gallons. Damaged lines due to work by TTEC in St Ann’s prevented many from accessing water even when there was a ready supply.
Yet, we rightly expect those in charge of these matters to have reliable backup plans for when things go awry. It is precisely because the Desalcott and El Socorro facilities are so crucial that there should be a workable plan of action for when things go wrong.
As for the damage of WASA lines by TTEC, this is a completely preventable matter which in this day and age should not be occurring. Given that all the major utilities share the same space along the nation’s roads, they need to do a better job of working together and accounting for their assets. It takes two hands to clap.
However, none of this is surprising given the financial constraints under which WASA functions.
A whopping $604 million is owed to the utility, according to figures given to a Parliament committee in July. Of this total, $469 million is owed by households, $79 million owed by commerce/industry, and $56 million owed by, of all people, state agencies. This debt profile has several consequences.
In the first place, WASA is currently owing contractors $342 million. Secondly, the authority is also unable to fund the $934 million it needs for an intended ten-year programme to replace its 157 kilometres of old pipelines. According to WASA’s acting programmes director Denise Lee Sing Pereira, WASA would need a 100 per cent hike in water rates to fund this. Such a matter, however, is out of WASA’s hands.
But it’s not only the financial situation that’s drying up supply. About 40 to 50 per cent of water produced by WASA ends up “unaccounted for,” according to the authority. Leaks, wastage.
Water is essential to life and this is something we should accept. But this is not reflected in the performance of WASA. Nor is it reflected in the State’s approach to the utility and our own practices as consumers.