WATER, or better still, the shortage of it, has been much in the news lately. Households and business establishments have been suffering as a result of the shortage of the commodity and some people are even annoyed that the silly games they play with water, they will have to forego this year.
The water shortage is related to both the drought and the diminished capacity of the John Compton Dam, as a result of massive accumulation of silt following adverse weather on three occasions: 1994 (Tropical Storm Debby), 2010 (Hurricane Tomas) and 2013 (The Christmas trough). It is said that after each weather system the siltation levels in the dam increased.
This dam was built at a cost of more than EC$130 million with the capacity to hold 700 million gallons of water. It was designed to satisfy the demands of our population up to the year 2025. So how come we have become victims of its diminished capacity at this time?
It is interesting to note that we in St Lucia have never openly and frankly debated the siltation issue at the dam. It appears that everyone has simply accepted the condition as having occurred without the necessary and often voiced demand for accountability. This is not about pointing fingers or allotting blame. Rather, it is about accountability of a major and expensive asset. Why is it that 20 years accumulation of silt is still lying in the dam? Is it an oversight on someone’s part? Is it downright negligence?
On Tuesday, we published on our front page a startling disclosure by Mr. Geoffrey Devaux about the failure of efforts to deal with this issue of siltation. He speaks of an agreement WASCO made with an experienced local company to remove the silt at a cost of $16 million that was apparently rescinded when the government changed and with it new management took over WASCO. Devaux claims that two other requests for bids to do the job which were for $21 million and $55 million respectively were both set aside and that a third request for bids is about to go out.
It’s a rather bizarre story, but four days after Devaux made his claim, no one has denied it, far less offered an explanation. Remember the first deposit of silt in the dam took place after storm Debby which was 20 years ago.
John Peters, a civil engineer, who writes weekly in this newspaper, has also taken up the water issue from a different angle, chronicling official pronouncements about the island’s water from successive budget addresses. What comes across clearly in Peters’ assessments is that over the years, the water sector has suffered from a series of chronic diseases that have afflicted successive governments and WASCO: lack of resolve and continuity, weak leadership and financial mismanagement, official neglect, among other things.
Today, the citizens of this country find themselves with a serious water shortage as well as having to foot the bill to dredge the dam via a surcharge with which they are likely to be saddled for many years to come. One wonders why it is that the public must on every occasion be called upon to pay the cost of other people’s blunders. But we don’t discuss these matters in St Lucia, do we?