What is being described as the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves-led administration’s willful neglect of Bequia inhabitants and their attendant concerns is again manifested, this time, in the management – or lack thereof – of potable water supply to the homes of residents who make up the approximated 5000 strong population size, sources say.
Several citizens on the largest Grenadine island reached out to Asbert News Network to voice their concern – given the ever increasing impact of climate change which is resulting in longer lasting dry spells coupled with the particular challenges residents face as they attempt to ramp up household responses to the COVID- 19 pandemic.
“Unlike Canouan and Union Island, Bequia has more ‘wells.’ The problem, here now, is the cost that you have to pay in order to get the water. Mind you, a lot of persons have been laid off from their jobs due to the decline in tourism and persons are not having that sort of income. So now you have persons paying up to $450 for a thousand gallon delivery of water. I think $150 for the truck and $250 or $300 for the actual water.
“So the thing is now, what are persons who can’t afford that supposed to do in this time? In this time when sanitation is extremely important where you have to wash your hands, you have to keep your surfaces clean. How are they going to afford that?
“My thing is that, in the stimulus package instead of the government speaking about cleaning buildings and painting buildings and these sorts of things, something can be put there in order to offset the costs that persons have to pay in order to get the water,” a proud Bequia native told ANN.
Keeping in mind the particular circumstances of the approximated “90% of the population [who are] directly or indirectly related to the tourism industry. It is economically impossible for some households to get water,” she added.
Shanel Duncan-Pierre, another Bequia native displayed a bit of her ire as she pointed to an intriguing fact: this water is often times procured from the Central Water and Sewage Authority, on mainland St. Vincent, at $40 per 1000 gallon. By the time it gets to the nearby Bequia consumers the sum paid by residents increase tenfold in some cases.
“Up until now all the water issues have been dealt with by NGOs and local groups,” Orthwin Simmons, another Bequia based citizen disclosed. Highly annoyed, Simmons also alleged, “there is no structured plan where water is concerned. Make no mistake: if the government takes the lead, we won’t have much of a problem. They simply refused to.”
This sense of willful neglect, by the current government, of the community’s easy access to potable water is characterized, in part, by the apparent abandonment of several catchments that were constructed on the island in previous political eras.
“When the ULP (Unity Labor Party) took office there were 3 reservoirs on the island, 1 in Hamilton and 2 in the harbor. One of the three which was supposedly condemned was allegedly leased to a ULP supporter; the others were left to become dilapidated. I remember one year when the young leaders of the Bequia Community High School cleaned the surroundings of the one in Hamilton.
“It’s there now open to all and sundry – nobody, absolutely nobody, controls what happens at the reservoirs. If the government had any real interest in us, those reservoirs could have supplied water to the entire island because they are huge.
“Nothing has been done to the government built reservoirs on the island. Nothing. In 20 years all that was added is a small desal (desalination) plant connected to approximately 15 households in Paget Farm and a ground water\natural spring system in Union Vale and both of those are from NGO support.
“The standpipes were left to deteriorate. They tried to replace them with PVC but the way it was done made no sense. We can supply water to the island for 6 or more months with the reservoirs and the 2 other sources if managed properly,” the impassioned Bequia man noted.
Garth Saunders, Chief Executive Officer at SVG’s Central Water and Sewage Authority, told ANN “I have no idea about the reservoirs. Those were not built by the CWSA, those were built strictly by the local Grenadines authorities. The CWSA has not been involved in any reservoirs on the island. I wouldn’t be able to speak to that.”
Saunders was further pressed as to any on island water supply management plans that may include the cisterns.
He responded, “my understanding is that those reservoirs or cisterns, whatever you call them, are built to collect rain water. So basically, I think, they’re designed as concrete platforms on a slope; water falls on the concrete platforms and then it is channeled into storage.
“So that system can work; the water can be stored during the rainy season for the dry season. Going forward, persons especially along the coast line can use water that is produced by the desalination plant. Then they can have that augmented by the water from those open reservoirs.”
A carbon neutral reverse osmosis desalination plant “whose input is inexhaustible sea water” combined with “a renewable carbon-free energy generation source (photovoltaic system) was implemented, as a pilot project, by the World Bank on Bequia with funds provided via the Global Environment Fund (GEF) and the CARICOM Climate Change Centre.
According to the project’s Technical Note dated May 15, 2012, “the desalination plant has been built to specifications to enable provision of water for about 1, 000 inhabitants, the projected population of Paget Farm by 2018, while working at 65% of its full capacity.”
The CWSA’s Chief Exec reported, “that plant is being operated by a separate entity headed by Herman Belmar. So water is being made available, at that plant, free of costs to the residents of Bequia. All that is required is that you have to get your transport to the plant to move the water.
“Water is available at present on island at Paget Farm and that plant could actually produce up to 20 000 gallons per day.”
Amongst other claims, this supposed cost-free water supply service from the desalination plant was seriously disputed by several Bequia residents and refuted by Herman Belmar, Deputy Director of Grenadine Affairs.
“While we have household metered connections,” the Deputy Director explained, “we also have a public distribution system where you can come with your truck and have it filled up with water. On an average, when we sell to trucks like that we do it at $0.10 per gallon; so $100 for 1000 gallons.”
One metered resident from Paget Farm claimed she pays “$14 per month for the connection and then for how much ever water me use.” An assertion that Belmar confirmed, saying, “I understand only yesterday (April 9) there’s a barge that supplies water from Kingstown and comes to Bequia and sell at very exorbitant prices.
“But from the desalination plant we sell – households pay the same rate as you on mainland St. Vincent pay to CWSA. It is extremely subsidized.”
As per any potential CWSA backed subsidized support, the Water Authority’s Chief disclosed, “the question of a subsidy has to be dealt with separate and apart from CWSA; we can’t subsidize something we don’t supply. If we are supplying it then we can subsidize it. That’s a matter that would have to be dealt with at a different level.
“But certainly we are moving in that direction with the desalination plants. Once we get more desalination plants on the island, we would be able to supply pipe borne water to most residents from our system and then we would be able to charge water at the same rates as persons are charged on mainland. And by doing so we would have an automatic subsidization of rates.”
Saunders further admitted that the size of the attendant distribution system attached to the sole operational desalination plant on Bequia currently restricts the number of households that are directly connected from the plant’s storage tanks.
“The system is small, the system is now being extended. So water is produced, pumped up to a tank then it is gravity-fed down to persons. The system is small and is limited only to Paget Farm now.” ANN has since learnt that some 19 properties including the Bequia Seafoods compound is being serviced by the “8 or 9 thousand gallons” daily output from that plant. Some 40 more meters are to be connected once the COVID-19 all clear is issued.
Be that as it may, more persons could benefit from the plant’s daily output but alas, “we have one desalination project… that produces excess water that goes back into the sea because there is nobody there to collect it.
“Persons just have to show up and water can be supplied to residents in Bequia. The water is there; the problem is access to the water,” Saunders said.
On the point of wasted potable water and without knowing who made it, Belmar declared, “that is absolutely not true. As a matter of fact the system was designed to produce 20 000 gallons of water. We had a tank that was built to store 20 000 gallons but we moved to the next level where had a secondary tank with a storage capacity of 40 000 gallons installed. So we fill from the large tank to the secondary tank which was the first we one we built. So we have on an average 60 000 gallons of water when they’re both up and filled. So we have absolutely no need to be pumping water back into the sea.”
The daily system flush was most likely mistaken for this excess water, Belmar told ANN. On average about 40% of the daily intake becomes the plant’s “workhorse” and is used to purify the remaining 60% which is pumped to the storage tanks. The workhorse is then pumped out some distance away from the intake point.
Regarding the reservoirs, the lifelong community servant highlighted the fact that the distance between the Port Elizabeth centered catchments and the Paget Farm based desalination plant is the largest barrier that would prevent any potential integration.
“The first one was built in 1944 long before you and I,” Belmar shared. “There are 3 of those catchments largely under the control of the Bequia District Council. The one in Hamilton is not connected at all to the system now since the first major disruption to the connecting pipelines occurred with left handed Lenny; that hurricane that came out of the West and mash up everything in Port Elizabeth.
“The last big issue there, I think it was, early last years when we restored the Hamilton port road all the pipelines that was on the side of the road – the galvanize pipes we stolen by people from the community.”
One Bequia native remembered the hurricane as a 9-year-old girl and remarked, “it really damaged the Western side of the island; beaches and roads destroyed – since Lenny? That means the new administration never did anything! That’s your evidence of neglect.”
Another community member refuted the allegation that his neighbors’ thievery was responsible, however fractionally, for their collective water woes.
“Not true. Most were damaged and as a result people moved them to do fencing and all that. They were left without repair. The pipes that were removed were not good. Years they were unattended with dirty water netting them rats, roaches and garbage. And moreover the pipes were simply laid on the surface of the road.”
Due to the lack of pipeline connectivity from the Hamilton reservoir, Belmar further explained, “people go there and pump water out by truck. But it is still under the control of the Bequia District Council.
“The other reservoir in Port Elizabeth is the main supplier of water when it is not raining. So the police station, the administrative building, the Bequia District Council and at one time, also connected was the Bequia Tourism Office.
“And from time to time persons from the public who are experiencing real difficulties would get permission from the staff of the Bequia District Council to get access to the water.”
He also optimistically illustrated the potential of the remaining concrete tank, while referencing its possible relationship with the much hoped for but supposedly unjustifiably delayed Port Elizabeth based desalination plant.
“I am aware of that. I am only sorry that it was not already in commission. But one of the proposals would also be to incorporate one of those reservoirs into the development of that desalination plant. So they would not be abandoned even though we be having better quality produced through reverse osmosis,” Deputy Director Belmar shared.
“Here at the CWSA we were just about to embark on a project to install another desalination plant in Port Elizabeth. We are just about at the point of finalizing our designs and appointing a project management team to get the project on the way.
“Obviously we would be set back by a couple of months but still we hope certainly before the end of the year to get that project started,” CWSA CEO Saunders told ANN.
The longtime CWSA Chief debunked rumors which paints the CWSA as the stumbling block in this new desalination plant’s implementation.
“The project is being funded externally and we have not received any funds yet for the project so we are not holding up the project. Secondly these water projects in the Grenadines should have gotten off quite a long time ago however the CWSA had to use funds to subsidize the solid waste management services in the Grenadines and funds were just not available at that time.
“Just about a year and a half, almost 2 years ago, we had to write off $1.2M in debts owed to the CWSA by residents of the Grenadines who were provided with solid waste services but did not pay for it. Since that writing off of the amount, CWSA has already built up another $250 000 of debt by persons in the Grenadines not paying for environmental uservices.”
This figure is spread out across all inhabited islands of the Grenadines as opposed to just Bequia, he clarified.