Ministry: Plans in place to deal with dry season water shortages
Minister of Public Utilities, Robert Le Hunte, said citizens and government must work together to avert a possible water crisis due to this year’s unusually harsh dry season.
Speaking at a media briefing on January 11, 2019, Le Hunte said during the dry season, the country’s daily water consumption increases by about 16 million gallons per day, reaching a high of 172 million gallons.
This is due to drier conditions as well as ‘certain celebrations’ during this time, Le Hunte said, adding that the traditional increase is usually 11 percent.
“Why do you use more water during the Dry Season? The period is hotter, farmers have to wet their crops.
“During the dry season you have certain celebrations…we have gotten some habits that we seem to use water also a lot at, so generally, during the dry period there’s an increase in demand,” he said.
Le Hunte: 1.3 million gallons of water lost to evaporation daily
Le Hunte said an alarming 1.3 million gallons of water are lost every day due to evaporation.
“We are expecting 29mm or 10 percent less rainfall than in previous years. Meanwhile in Tobago it’s expected to be 56mm or 26 percent less rainfall than our previous years”.
“These figures, sobering as they are, are made even more significant when you consider the fact that 59 percent of our water supply comes from surface water sources like reservoirs and rivers, which are fed by rainfall.”
“These water courses, due to large surface areas, are prone to evaporation, especially during the Dry Season.
Le Hunte said the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) calculated that the country’s reservoirs lose a total of 190 million gallons (almost six million cubic tonnes) of water over the entire dry season due to evaporation – that’s 1.3 million gallons per day.
“That amount of water lost to natural processes almost equates to servicing 593,000 households. That’s the level and impact of what will happen as a result of evaporation, simply due to the type of water (storage) we have,” he said.
Half of the country’s daily water supply lost to leaks
Le Hunte also added that up to half of the country’s daily water supply is lost to leaks due to an ageing infrastructure.
He said WASA produces approximately 240 million gallons of water per day but said they expect this to drop to around 200 million gallons per day during the Dry Season.
“There is an approximate 50 percent loss of water supply to leaks and our ageing infrastructure. This equates to about 102 million imperial gallons per day,” he said.
Le Hunte said these are legacy issues as some pipes are up to 40 and 50 years old, which results in water loss.
“A lot of the leaks, there are two types of leaks, surface leaks…but we are detecting underground or subsurface leaks.
“Along with the significant reduction in our water supply, there is also increased usage by the population and leakage throughout the distribution system. All of these impact negatively to impact the amount of water coming to you, the customers and citizens at the pipe.”
Le Hunte: Plans in place to rescue water supply
Le Hunte said however that a plan had been devised to try to deal with these issues.
“The situation may sound somewhat bleak, but placed in that context, WASA and MPU have put a plan together to try to deal with this situation,” he said.
He said it’s important to keep their production at the present level, adding that they had been preparing since November 2018.
“We have identified about 28 wells that are currently out of production and require refurbishment to bring them on. They are already happening as we speak and we expect by the end of January to the beginning of February, all 28 of those wells will be back on track.
“That action will result in about five million gallons per day of water coming into the system,” he said.
Le Hunte said they have also identified another 10 wells for rehabilitation, which should increase daily production by another 1.5 million gallons per day. Those projects should be completed by the end of March, Le Hunte said.
Le Hunte also referred to DESALCOTT which provides about 40 million gallons of water daily accounting for about 17-20 percent of the country’s daily water production.
He admitted that the facility’s performance was a challenge as its uptime, usually at 99 percent, dropped to 95 percent in 2018, saying there were challenges as the plant is ‘getting old’, but this is being remedied.
“They have been investing …in additional technology…upgrading certain aspects of the plant and they are fairly confident that their production level can be maintained at 40 million gallons a day, and in addition, they have put systems in place where they will be able to ramp up that production to as much as 42 million gallons (per day),” he said.
289 subsurface leaks in the northwest and Tobago
Le Hunte added that they have sourced the services of another company to provide satellite imagery to show subsurface leaks which are not usually visible.
WASA has since been given a report showing about 289 subsurface leaks throughout the northwest of Trinidad and Tobago.
He said the company that provides that service would be visiting the Ministry to verify those satellite findings with an aim to repair these leaks.
He said all efforts must be made to conserve water resources as much of the water stored by the Water and Sewerage Authority consists of surface water, which can be diminished by evaporation.
“Citizens also have a part to play in ensuring that our water supply remains stable… (during) this harsher than usual dry season,” he said.