By Carl Joseph
The Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) will be seeking to secure a loan for $30 million in an effort to refurbish its existing water network that is now costing the authority over $15 million a year (or $1.25 million per month) because of obsolescence and excessive wear and tear.
APUA’s water unit has come under great scrutiny, especially over the last two weeks, as residents have experienced less than a frequent supply of water over that time.
In response to cries of residents, the Cabinet held discussions on Wednesday with representatives from the APUA’s water business unit.
One of the major reasons, said Cabinet, for the shortage of water supply to homes and businesses was that, “that nearly 40 percent of the water produced by APUA is lost to cracked and broken mains, especially in the old city of St John’s.”
APUA also reported that the bore in the pipes has also become reduced over time by encrusted materials that build up on the inside of the pipes, thereby reducing delivery amounts, and that the material cannot be removed.
“It’s a totally unacceptable position,” said Cabinet spokesman, Information Minister Melford Nicholas, “so the mandate the APUA department had yesterday is to procure what funding is necessary to be able to get to a position where the grid that delivers the water to consumers is repaired and restored.”
This funding, Nicholas said, “would come from the normal commercial borrowings”.
The work on the water network is set to begin during the first quarter of 2020.
Asked whether the added immediate $30 million dollar costs would eventually be passed on to the consumer by way of higher water rates, the minister said, “the government is reluctant to engage in the conversation about raising the rates of water at this stage”.
Nicholas referenced a two-year-old study from the World Bank which, he said, recommended that water rates be raised, but the minister said that there are other options being considered to raise the funds necessary to repay the anticipated loan.
“There are certain communities,” he said, “that are paying significant rates for water because they have to truck it and they are prepared to spend those monies for water.”
Nicholas indicated that those funds could be, “the funds that APUA could procure to support the loan obligations.”
On average, APUA produces over 6.5 million gallons of water daily and of this amount, 2.6 million gallons is lost on a daily basis because of the reasons previously mentioned. The minister also put forward the point that the savings attached as a result of fixing the water network alone would total $15 million a year, thereby offsetting the need to raise the water rates to consumers.
Speaking directly to the water woes over the past two weeks, Cabinet notes stated that, “the APUA team reported that though three reverse osmosis plants are located at Ffryes Bay, only one could be utilised these past 14 days because of a ‘ground swell’.”
Nicholas, explained that, “the turbidity [being thick with suspended matter] of the water… the more suspensions that you have in the water, the greater impact it has on the reverse osmosis plant.”
That reduction in production, APUA said, caused more than 14 million gallons of potable water not to be produced over the past two weeks.
The minister also pointed to an ever-increasing population, which he said, has grown to over 100,000 people as a reason for increased water demand which has put a strain on the country’s supply of water.