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Image: The spillover at John Compton Dam. [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]

WASCO Told: ‘No More Bailouts By Gov’t’

Image: The spillover at John Compton Dam. [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]
The spillover at John Compton Dam. [PHOTO: Stan Bishop]
THE Water and Sewerage Company Inc. (WASCO) launched its US$18.3 million John Compton Rehabilitation Project last Tuesday at Millet, a stone’s throw from the dam’s spillover.

The project includes – but is not limited to – the de-silting of the dam which had its holding capacity decreased drastically after repeated storms dumped tons of silt into the main reservoir that supplies the island’s north. That situation has resulted in frequent interruptions in the water supply.

Funding for the project was facilitated by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the rehabilitation works should begin after the winning bid to de-silt the dam is determined shortly.

Chairman of the Water and Sewerage Company Inc (WASCO), Egbert Louis, said that over the past four years WASCO had received quotations for de-silting the dam within the US$6 million to US$39 million price range.

Louis said that while the rehabilitative works are costly, the 10.43% dredging fee customers currently pay on their water bills is negligible considering the extensive scope of the project. That fee was part of the 66% increase customers began paying after the National Water and Sewerage Commission granted a tariff review two years ago.

“The dredging fee that WASCO collects is about US$1.5 million per annum. So put that into context as to what it may cost us to dredge the reservoir,” Louis said.

Louis added: “Contrary to popular belief or dialogue, the project is not about de-silting the John Compton Dam. It’s about redressing the years of deferred maintenance and the dreadful impacts of climate change.”

Andrew Dupigny, Division Chief of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), was also present at Tuesday’s official launch. He said the dam’s usefulness should not be underestimated, especially since at its optimal capacity it provides 93,000 residents in Castries, Gros Islet and parts of Anse la Raye with potable water. The project, he said, thus becomes a vital pipeline to domestic and commercial activity.

“This project not only addresses some of the technical challenges facing the John Compton Dam but (also) takes a holistic approach to the sustainability of WASCO and the water sector itself,” Dupigny said. “Apart from the dam rehabilitation works, the project includes components which will include gender inclusion in WASCO policies, climate resilience planning for the water sector and financial management within WASCO.”

Dupigny said that since its inception in 1970, the CDB has approved US$375 million in concessional loans and grants to Saint Lucia in several areas, including the water sector, infrastructure and flood mitigation. Over the decades, the CDB has partnered with Saint Lucia in several projects related to water supply with the current project being its seventh such project.

Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony referred to the dam project as a “critical and crucial step” to enhancing the island’s water supply. While the government of Saint Lucia acts as guarantor, WASCO will repay the loan to the CDB. He gave a stern warning to WASCO to conduct its business with utmost transparency and efficiency to remain a viable entity.

“This time there will be no bailing out,” Dr. Anthony warned. “I’ve had enough of bailing out of WASCO. About two years ago, the government of Saint Lucia had to take off of WASCO’s books approximately EC$132 million. That must not happen again.”

According to WASCO, the average Saint Lucian uses about 30 gallons of water per day. Moreover, 56% of the water that WASCO treats and pumps through its distribution network is not billed for, due principally to leaks in the water supply system.

Minister for Sustainable Development, Energy, Science & Technology, Dr. James Fletcher, said that climate change models posit that water availability will continue to be a challenge. Some estimates, he said, suggest between 10% and 20% water reduction in water availability due to climate change.

According to Dr. Fletcher, Saint Lucia is currently experiencing an uncharacteristically dry rainy season and will be entering next year with a water deficit. Communities such as Babonneau, Dr. Fletcher said, are acutely affected.

When opened in February 1996, the John Compton Dam had the capacity to hold 2.8 million cubic gallons of water. By November 2013, it was holding just 1.9 million cubic gallons of water due to silt build-up.

Meanwhile, a US$20 million project for the redevelopment of the Vieux Fort water supply network was launched yesterday. That project will include a new intake and water treatment plant at Beausejour and improvement of transmission mains from that plant to storage tanks at Beanefield, Augier and La Tourney.

Stan Bishop began his career in journalism in March 2008 writing freelance for The VOICE newspaper for six weeks before being hired as a part-time journalist there when one of the company’s journalists was overseas on assignment.

Although he was initially told that the job would last only two weeks, he was able to demonstrate such high quality work that the company offered him a permanent job before that fortnight was over. Read full bio...

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