Statement from – Wilfred Abrahams, Min. of Energy & Water Resources
The lack of water in the taps of some residents of St. John is as a direct result of low water levels at the BWA’s Bowmanston pumping station. The critical contributing factor is the low stream levels in the aquifer as a consequence of the extreme drought being experienced in the Caribbean and other parts of the world that has captured the attention of all nations. In the last quarter of 2019, the Meteorological Services confirmed that Barbados was experiencing its worst drought conditions since 1948 and the international experts have indicated that the low rainfall total shall continue.
It is to be noted that contrary to what is being said in other circles, each day, the BWA pumps water into the affected areas until the reservoir is depleted and this the BWA has articulated on a constant and consistent basis. Once there is water in the reservoir, that water is fed into the system until the reservoir is entirely dry. What then happens is that once the supply is exhausted, the taps are dry until the reservoir is replenished. The lack of water is not a result of deliberate rationing. Indeed, the BWA’s communications team has been exceedingly efficient in ensuring that the public is notified in a timely manner of the occasions when planned shutoffs will occur and the areas to be affected by these shutoffs.
For the avoidance of doubt and to ensure that all understand, there is a persistent drought affecting Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean as a direct consequence of climate change and a change in rainfall patterns. This is what our Prime Minister has sought to battle on the international level and it is unfortunate that some of those whose interests she seeks to protect, refuse for reasons political to accept the reality of our situation. Simply, put the persistent drought has resulted in the BWA’s inability to produce enough water to maintain the demand of the affected areas such as Sherbourne, Wilson Hill. Pothouse, Small Town and Gall Hill among others.
In an effort to address the low water levels at Bowmanston, the BWA began the $14.8 million Vineyard project. This would see the movement of water from Vineyard, St. Philip into the Golden Ridge/Bowmanston system. This project is currently on hold due to the financial position of the BWA as a direct result of the negligence and mismanagement of the BWA by the last administration and the failure in the past to focus any funding on the improvement of water resources to the parishes in the hardest hit areas. However, we are working with the Ministry of Finance to restart the Vineyard project in the shortest possible time.
To be clear, this problem did not occur within the last two years. It has been an issue for years and as the BWA slowly yet surely changes its direction and its priorities, with the best will in the world it cannot overnight solve a decade old problem that is now being highlighted by those who caused it in the first place.
In the interim, the BWA has been servicing/filling the community tanks in St. John, which have been strategically placed in “areas most impacted by the low water levels“. It is important to note that residents of St. John consistently receive on average, two deliveries of water per day by water tankers. At this rate most our tanker drivers are working more than 16 hour shifts in order to try and keep up with demand and so are the vehicles.
Equally worthy of note is that the BWA has on average a fleet of nine (9) tankers, all but one carrying only 1,200 gallons of water. These tanker teams are serving the needs of residents in areas such as St. John and St. Joseph in addition to other areas to maintain water delivery to the over 91 community tanks across Barbados.
Should the BWA be further ahead in providing a consistent flow of water through the taps of all Barbadians – yes it should. However, the mis-management of the former leadership of this country meant monies that should have been invested into the BWA’s pipe infrastructure or strategically placed desalination plants or even the maintenance of both the Bridgetown and South Coast Sewage Systems which would have been to the benefit of all Barbadians, was spent on several other projects. One of which was the investment of BDS$ 65 million in the current BWA Headquarters located at The Pine. The BWA has only recently been able to extricate itself from some extremely onerous contracts, 20 thus far, totaling 1.5 billion dollars which the previous government entered into for reasons yet unclear and some of which are under investigation. Millions of taxpayers’ dollars were wasted with no commensurate improvement in the service to Barbadians to show for it.
Over the past week, the BWA has deployed two additional 1,000 gallon water tanks to Sherbourne, St. John. Additionally, it is working to bolster the water tanker fleet with the possible addition of suitable private sector vehicles which are in slow rotation as a result of COVID-19. This process may take some time as these tankers will have to be properly sanitized and checked before being pressed into service.
I must commend the Board, Management and Staff of the BWA for the fresh new approach that has been brought to bear in this most challenging time. I assure the public that all hands are on deck to ensure the improvement in the delivery of water to all Barbadians. This is what occupies us all day after day and the BWA is doing the best it can with the precious little resources it has. We will get there but it will not happen overnight.
In the interim, the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources and the BWA shall continue to keep you abreast of its on-going initiatives to address the water supply challenges of St. John.