“The idea of producing sufficient water on Bequia, at the desal plant, for the entire island to be able to run the water as is seen in the COVID ad – nonstop running water from the time you turn the tap on while washing hands to the time you turn it back off – that cannot happen. The plant was not designed for that at all,” Northern Grenadines Community Development Incorporated project advisor Herman Belmar told the ANN last Sunday.
The aging Paget Farm based desalination plant was designed to produce up to 20 000 gallons of potable water daily. However, the plant’s current rate of depreciation coupled with related maintenance issues has forced its productivity down to 40% in recent times. The lack of “a backup system and extra pumps” puts an additional strain on the plant’s output capacity.
“We are running the plant to produce just enough water to keep the community supplied. We currently have about 19 households connected to the system including the Bequia Seafoods and when they’re in the peak of their processing they would need at least 2 – 3 thousand gallons of water per day. So on an average we have to produce about 8 000, 9 000 gallons of water per day to keep the system sustainable. It’s not that the system can’t do it but because of its age we have to cut back on the hours of production. So we run about 8 hours daily…. As far as I know what we produce is keeping the island sustained. Not just the community,” Herman Belmar, who also acts as the Deputy Director of Grenadines Affairs, noted.
As proof of the plant’s island supply capacity, Deputy Director Belmar pointed to the two-tiered water supply system administered by the NGCDI. “While we have household metered connections, we also have a public distribution system where you can come with your truck and have it filled up with water,” at a cost of $100 per 1000 gallon, he said.
The cost and quality of the water produced via the plant at Paget Farm is often times undervalued and consequently underappreciated. “If you [know how potable] water is made from sea water, it is an extremely expensive undertaking. Had it not been for the use of photovoltaic cells we would not have been able to … make the water affordable to the community.”
These ‘solar panels’ are an essential element of the pilot project design that was enabled by the World Bank/GEF 2007 SPACC project. Today their performance, though somewhat adequate, is less than optimal. “All of our energy is paid directly through VINLEC because all the energy we generate go straight to VINLEC; so we operate on a credit basis.
“Although the plant, when it was designed, should have been producing approximately 20% energy more than we require for the water production; two things are working against us. The way the panel array is set up creates difficulty to clean them and … if they are not cleaned regularly and properly we lose a lot of energy.
“So while we should be generating 70 kilowatts of energy per day right now we’re only able to generate about 40 so we’re nowhere near peak production,” the Deputy Director said.
This inability to harness “excess energy” in turn desiccates the NGCDI’s intended revenue stream. “We very well might be running in arrears with VINLEC where energy is concerned,” Belmar revealed.
Arresting these spiraling costs may not be as simple as braving the gusts that peel across the Sir James Mitchell Airport hangar roof. Belmar reports there are about“330 panels with no more than a 2 foot passage between them to allow for cleaning; so that has proven to be a very serious draw back.”
Although the last service professionals indicated that a “few panels” would have to be removed therefore necessitating a system redesign and construction – “we cannot afford to do it at this point in time because if we shut the panels down, we’re practically shutting the plant down, he conceded.
And if that’s not enough “community vandalism” is an added plague with which the plant’s operators must cope.
“We’ve had pipes being broken without any explanation, taps being knocked off, people setting fires that burn holes in the lines pipelines, people breaking into the water system itself – we’ve had a series of problems where vandalism is concerned.”
Belmar, the driving force behind Bequia’s slowly evolving potable water resiliency response, pointed to 2 very recent incidents which he estimated cost the community at least 30 000 gallons of purified water, overnight. “Now I have to be pumping water for at least 3 days to replace that. That is excessive work and strain on the machinery that I am trying to avoid.”
Particularly given that “this is a labor of love” which often times means that the only other operations team member must “beg a ride to get back to Port Elizabeth” at the end of his extended working day, Belmar issued an all-out appeal to “the public to respect the desalination plant as a public property. It is not owned by anybody except the public so if they lick it up they mash it up for them own self. Just like you can’t go and cut down VINLEC poles you shouldn’t come and mash up the pipelines in Paget Farm.
“It is lowdown, it is mean, it is wicked to think that people believe if they mash up a pipeline they mashing up Ralph Gonsalves and Herman Belmar. They’re not doing me any harm, they’re not doing the Prime Minister any harm. They’re hurting their country and the people who really need the water.
“I have arrested one person before and I would arrest anybody that I can prove has damaged or molested any of the water supply in Paget Farm. The fact that there are 19 families now depending wholly and solely on that water supply means that there are 19 families you can create serious problems for if you tamper with the water system. We are not going to tolerate it any longer.”