WASA's courtroom embarrassment

In this file photo, a WASA crew repairs a broken water line at Lady Young Road, Morvant in December 2022. - File photo/Angelo Marcelle
In this file photo, a WASA crew repairs a broken water line at Lady Young Road, Morvant in December 2022. - File photo/Angelo Marcelle

Not even the Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales could muster any sympathy for WASA's 11-year losing battle with Janet Rousseau over its liability in the destruction of her Laventille home.

In her ruling on the case, Justice Joan Charles described the evidence that the utility offered in its defence as being of "little or no value."

For its ill-advised persistence in pursuing this matter, the initial damages of $1.2 million are likely to increase to $2 million as Justice Charles ordered special and general damages in the case, including a punitive fine of $150,000 for nuisance.

"I think WASA should really look at their approach in how they manage these things and resolve those matters between the citizens, and the authority so that we do not have to reach to this stage," Mr Gonzales said.

He wasn't pleased that it was the second case in recent months in which an ordinary citizen succeeded in their legal challenge against WASA by having the stamina and finances to follow through with a long and costly legal process.

In 2018, the Appeal Court dismissed an appeal by WASA in a case brought by Darwin and Kamalar Sahadath whose Penal home sank more than 20 feet over two years, awarding $2 million for the loss of their property after the utility failed to repair a leaking main.

According to Mr Gonzales, WASA's legal teams are managing $100 million worth of claims, but how many of those claimants have the capacity to prove WASA's responsibility in these cases?

Facing Justice Charles, WASA's legal representation could not adequately respond to the presence of moisture under the soil of Ms Rousseau's home during the dry season.

The challenges faced by the authority are only sharpened by the reality that some of this damage is the result of leaking pipes that cost the company as much as half of its water supply, at a rate of 102 million imperial gallons per day, adding significantly to WASA's material losses.

The utility can ill-afford these deficits with output from Desalcott diminished because of increased algae content in the seawater it processes.

In 2019 the authority, supported by the IDB, announced a project with Israeli company Utilis Corporation (now Asterra) to map the condition of its buried pipelines and identify leaks using unique technology, polarimetric synthetic aperture radar information derived from satellite data.

Four years later, there has been no word on the results of the site verification tests undertaken by the leak surveyor, which has gone on to do its leak spotting in the US, Italy, the UK, Chile and China.

Mr Gonzales' public enthusiasm to correct the issues at WASA is admirable, but fundamentals aren't being addressed despite his concerns.

WASA's board and management must come up with a plan to deal with the impacts of its ageing infrastructure, responding to customers' complaints to mitigate against costly lawsuits.


"WASA’s courtroom embarrassment"

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