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Drought puts pressure on water system

The current drought on Saba has increased the demand for water from the reverse osmosis plant in Fort Bay and requires constant pumping through the water pipeline system from the water plant up to the villages. The water issue was amply discussed during a Central Committee meeting of the Island Council on Tuesday, June 1.

Responding to questions and remarks of several Members of the Island Council, Commissioner of Infrastructure and Water Management Bruce Zagers gave an update on matters relating to the water supply. As droughts seem to be getting longer and more intense, it is first and foremost important that people conserve water. He explained that the severity of the more recent increased droughts was not calculated in at the time the water supply system was put in place.

The booster pumps to get the water from the Fort Bay plant to The Bottom and Windwardside have been running at full capacity. Calculations will be made together with water expert Vitens Evidens International to determine if more powerful pumps can be used with the existing pipe lines to move more volume quicker.

The water plant is running 16 to 18 hours per day. Running 24 hours per day is currently not possible because of the low tide. The option is being considered to place the water intake line in the sea at a lower point so the plant can run non-stop.

Because of the limited amount of water that can be pumped up to Windwardside due to the longer distance, water trucks cannot fill up at the filling station all the time. “We are pumping up water as quick as we can,” said Zagers. Water trucks can always fill up in The Bottom, if there is not enough water available in the Windwardside. Island Council Member Eviton Heyliger brought up the matter of the lack of sufficient water in Windwardside and said that the demand was so high for several days in a row that the filling station repeatedly ran out of water.

Commissioner Zagers announced during the meeting that the water bottling plant near St. John’s was scheduled to become operational by the end of June. A technician of Vitens Evidens International (VEI) is currently on Saba for the final installation and to also train personnel mid-June, together with other consultants. VEI will also assist with drafting a marketing plan and work out a contingency plan for the bottling plant. While on Saba, the VEI technician will help to get the waterline from Windwardside to Zion’s Hill operational. The waterline is already in place.

Island Council member Vito Charles during Tuesday’s meeting enquired about the inability to meet the water demand. He asked whether there would be sufficient water capacity to supply both the filling stations in the Windwardside and in the near future Zion’s Hill, plus the water bottling plant. He also wanted to know what the peak demand was during a drought and what the water capacity should look like in a worst-case scenario. Zagers replied that the issue of peak consumption would be included in the VEI plan.

Island Council Members Charles and Carl Buncamper pointed out that buying water during the drought period was a big problem for persons with a small income. “How do we get water to those who can’t afford to buy? How do we assist this group?” asked Buncamper.

Commissioner of Social Affairs Rolando Wilson explained that there is assistance available at the Department of Public Health and Community Development for those persons who run out of water during dry times and can’t afford to pay a water truck to fill their cistern. People can get 5 to 6 water loads. Island Council Member Charles said that water a basic right and that there should be no bureaucracy in getting water when a person is in need. “At time of need, it should be given freely.”

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