Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Unending water inconvenience

 Word of yet another shutdown of Desalcott in order to expand its water supply to 40 million gallons a day reeks of contempt for consumers by both Desalcott and the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

The public advisory issued by WASA on Tuesday, announcing a one-week disruption in the water supply, marks the third time since November last year that consumers are being seriously inconvenienced for the same Desalcott expansion project.

First came the announcement of November 11 that Desalcott’s supply would be interrupted for six days to facilitate “expansion works to enable an increase in the plants’ daily output from 32 mgd to 40 mgd by January 2014”. That didn’t happen. Instead, in March this year, WASA issued another public statement indicating that Desalcott had requested further time to complete the project. As a result, the public was informed of a two-week disruption of service, from March 25 to April 7. 

Now comes yet another statement from WASA, advising the public of yet another Desalcott shutdown to facilitate plant expansion to increase its water supply to the same target of 40 mgd. At no stage, after each of the two previous occasions, was the public informed that the work had not been completed. Instead the public was left to believe that the sacrifice and inconvenience of going without water had been temporary and worth it given the assumed increase in the nation’s water supply. 

More than seven months later, consumers are discovering that Desalcott is still working on the same expansion project which it had initially been led to believe was scheduled for completion late last year.

While no one would take issue with the general objective of increasing the national water supply, WASA’s communication with the public on the issue leaves much to be desired. Repeatedly, the public is being fed partial information without context. Why is Desalcott’s water expansion project, which was sold to the public as requiring a six-day shutdown in November last year, still a project in progress and necessitating a third shutdown? Is there some unanticipated problem that the public is being kept in the dark about? Or is it that WASA believes that the public is not entitled to have all the information that is relevant to this project and is therefore providing it in piecemeal fashion?

Meanwhile, consumers are bracing for another round of water hardship knowing that WASA, which deals directly with householders and businesses, is never adequately ready to make up for water shortages caused by its own supplier. The Authority pledges truck-borne water for schools and hospitals, but then makes the usual vague commitments to “accelerate” its repairs of leaks, and to pump more from its Caroni Water Treatment Plant. While no time is good for turning down or turning off the water supply, the impact of the severely rain-deprived dry season is still with us. Given the erratic performance by both WASA and Desalcott, the best advice for all is to deepen the habit of water conservation.