Minister of Public Utilities Robert Le Hunte announced last week that WASA increased the supply of water from 220 to 232 million gallons per day. That’s an incremental change in a water allocation schedule that’s proven sketchy over the last six months, but it's a critical move in any effort to help homes and businesses to keep their environments clean.
That doesn't mean that things are going well with our water resources. The major dams are still below capacity, with the Hollis dam at 63.34 per cent capacity, a drop from its long-term level of 71 per cent. The Caroni/Arena, Navet and Hillsborough reservoirs are running at capacities of 61.44 per cent (normally 82.46), 68.83 (77.68) and 86.49 (77.77) per cent respectively.
That should be adequate, but these are not normal times, and running water plays a key role in any sustained effort at controlling the spread of covid19 through regular cleaning, particularly for public spaces. WASA is clearly aware of this and is moving to adjust its water delivery schedule to meet anticipated demand from one to two days per week, increasing deliveries to two to three days per week.
Water restrictions remain in place, and it's important that citizens respect the limits set by WASA for water use during a time of reduced water supply and place an emphasis on critical need once a tap is opened.
WASA’s clean tap water is one of the most critical weapons available to ordinary citizens in meeting the coronavirus challenge. TT is likely to continue to face challenges in collecting water, with the Met Office noting that the next three months look to be drier than average, and that makes the diminished capacity of the dams a matter of critical national concern.
WASA must also amplify its own efforts to improve the robustness of its pipeline infrastructure, which is responsible for the most egregious water loss nationwide. It’s an issue that has only been paid lip service by successive administrations, and a national problem has been addressed with patchwork local efforts at repairing collapsing infrastructure.
The Public Utilities Minister has also not announced any plans for the safety of WASA’s workers or for supply continuity should there be a shortage of manpower resulting from the spread of the virus. These plans should have already been articulated to staff and appropriate contingency measures already implemented to manage the spread of the virus in the course of routine work.
Beyond that there is the issue of wastewater management. While the scope and tenacity of covid19 are still being evaluated, there are concerns about the longevity of the virus in human waste. While industry standard waste management measures are designed to neutralise viruses, such measures must continue to be diligently applied and monitored.