Commissioner Bruce Zagers' speech at the official opening of the Saba Splash water bottling plant
The opening of the Saba Splash bottling plant is a significant milestone. Not only does this bring us one step closer to finalizing the initial scope for improving the water quality and quantity for Saba, but it also creates an opportunity for the Government of Saba to provide quality drinking water, which is produced locally, at an affordable price for our people.
The water project, which started in 2014, is not limited to the bottling plant that you will get to see this afternoon. This project encompasses a comprehensive approach which has improved the availability of water through increasing storage capacity. It involves installing pipelines from the water factory at Fort Bay, through the villages and installing various filling stations in strategic locations so that the price of transporting water can be significantly reduced. We built multiple cisterns throughout the island so that we could drastically increase our water storage capacity. And, last but not least, the Saba Splash Bottling Plant, which has been outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment that cannot be found on our neighboring islands.
Getting to this point, called for trust, creativity and flexibility, which we have always received from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW) from the onset of this program. Directly after the transition, and during a severe drought, I remember that there was a visiting delegation from ILT, the inspectorate for the quality of drinking water. They were here on a mission to see how the inspectorate could control the quality of drinking water on Saba. During this stage it was considered a fact-finding mission that was organized through the RCN which the local government had little knowledge about. However, as Saba is small, the news about this delegation and their work quickly made it to us. There was no scheduled meeting with the Executive Council, but I made it a point to find these guys to give them my perspective.
I kept asking the inspectors one question. How can you control the quality of drinking water when we have none to control? Imagine this, here we are in a severe drought, with one small Reverse Osmosis RO plant at that time which definitely could not keep up with the demand. People were being forced to put grey water in their cisterns because they could not access any other cleaner sources. In a relief effort, the Navy ship Pelikaan was sent to Saba to bring water. Yet, here was a delegation, who were eager to get to work, to solve a quality of drinking water problem on Saba. After a lengthy back and forth, they eventually understood my point and agreed that the availability of water was more important at that time than controlling the quality of it.
The visit of the Pelikaan brought significant political and media attention about our water problems. Within a relatively short period of time, together with the ministry, we developed a plan. A budget was made available so that we could bring structural solutions that would solve the scarcity of water problems that had plagued Saba for as long as I can remember. With this agreement, we also ensured that the quality of drinking water remained relevant but would be addressed as soon as we could ensure that Saba would be better prepared for drought seasons. That is why this bottling plant is one of the last elements of what has been one of the most successful projects since the transition.
As a community, we often don’t recognize or highlight the positive developments that greatly influence our way of life here on Saba. There is a saying that good news doesn’t sell newspapers. In our case, the good news, or the positive developments, doesn’t always rile up the masses on Facebook the same as when something negative happens. The positive significance of this project goes far beyond this bottling plant. Before this project, during severe droughts, there were times that there was no water that could be purchased to put in our cisterns when they went dry. If there was water that could be purchased, it was extremely expensive. Depending on where you lived, the price of one truck load of water could be as high as $160 per load. This is not an exaggeration as those who live close to the airport paid these prices when there was no competition and especially when there was a high demand for the little water that was available. With this project, even during severe droughts we have not experienced a water shortage problem. We have also been able to drastically reduce and regulate the price for trucking of water. Instead of paying prices that ranged anywhere from $80 to $160 per truckload, we now pay $60 per 1,000 gallons delivered anywhere on the island. Before, on average there were only 3 truckers who were involved with the delivery of water. With this project, we now have approximately 8 truckers who can be seen delivering water regularly.
As for the significance of the Saba Splash Bottling plant, we are going beyond providing water in a bottle. We want to change the way you drink water. The Saba Splash water is further processed and each batch is tested by a lab in St. Maarten to secure independent quality assurance. Also, unlike the water that is commonly available in the stores, the Saba Splash water includes minerals which are nonexistent in the other brands as they are completely stripped of all minerals. As for pricing, we have also been able to drastically reduce them. After paying a $7 deposit for the bottle, with a subsidy provided by the Ministry of I&W, we are able to sell this water for $3.50 for a 3-gallon bottle and $4.50 for a 5-gallon bottle. This subsidy will last until July 2022. The price after the subsidy will be $6 for a 3-gallon bottle and $7 for a 5-gallon bottle. For those of you who purchase water from the stores, you can quickly relate to these reduced prices. Similar 5-gallon bottles from abroad are being sold for as high as $22 per bottle, while a case of 1.5-liter bottles range from $12 to $15 per case.
Many have asked why the decision was made to only produce the larger size bottles while we should know that the smaller size bottles are more popular. Although the smaller bottles are more convenient, we cannot ignore the negative impact they have on our environment. The choice to use the larger size, re-useable bottles, will eventually drastically reduce our dependency on these smaller, single use, plastic bottles, which at times end up over our walls, on our shores and continue to be a burden at our landfill. With the single-use plastic ban in place and in its implementation phase, it is only fitting that this project supports such an important initiative which was unanimously approved by our Island Council.
This project is a real example of progress. Projects like these create employment opportunities. It has adequately addressed the shortage of water problems that we have experienced during severe droughts. It has significantly improved the availability of good quality, and good tasting, drinking water. Lastly, and more importantly, we have made water, which is a basic necessity, available and more affordable for our people. With this project we already highlight as a success story, where trust, creativity and flexibility, has resulted in the delivery of a product and service that is positively impacting Saba and our people.
I have to mention a few people who have been instrumental in making this project a success story. Bobby Zagers from the Planning Bureau has been involved in working to solve our water problems well before this project even started. He made this project a priority and continues to play a vital role during these final stages. Sarah van der Horn, who now works at the Ministry of BZK, also played a vital role as the main link, reporting the on-island progress to the ministry while creating the relevant reports needed to justify the spending and progress of the projects. Nicole Johnson took over Sarah’s work and I’m grateful for all that she does. Marjan van Giezen and Luit-Jan Dijkhuis of the Ministry of IenW played a very important role in ensuring that budgets were made available to support our initiatives. Although they no longer work in the water department of IenW, their flexible approach to this project serves as an example to other departments and ministries of how successful projects can be implemented on Saba. I have thank Bart and Fred, who are here today, from Vitens Evides International VEI. Your support and passion for this project is greatly appreciated. I hope that you are as proud as I am with the end result that we are celebrating today. Last but certainly not least, the 3 gentlemen, Oscar, Shannon and Justin, who have been busy in the Saba Splash bottling plant for the past months. Thank you for your efforts in getting the system fully operational and I trust that you will continue being passionate about the quality service and product you are producing for our community. I must also recognize Zakiyah, Trevon and Kaziah, who came up with the name Saba Splash and the artwork which complements the name.