Editorial: Finally a plan

The most recent Cabinet notes revealed that the management at Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) had presented a plan to Cabinet with relevant costings for increasing potable water output.  This is good news for the country that has been suffering under drought conditions for several years. 

The phased plan presented short-term, medium-term and long-term strategies that would see a bump in production capacity and better distribution.  While the news has been met with a chorus of “only now they putting a plan together?” we take a more optimistic and relieved approach to the news and say better late than never. Now the real works begins!   Planning is always the most critical part of any project, however, execution is ultimately what matters.  And execution requires money.  So, let’s start the tally.  

According to the briefing, APUA’s short-term plan consists of purchasing 2,150 new membranes for the reverse osmosis plants to replace many of the membranes that have been used for five or more years.   Cost? US $960,000.  This is an obvious need since the efficiency of the plants decreases over time as debris such seaweed, sand and gravel gets sucked up into the system.  Next on the list is completion of the replacement of a 20” water delivery line on the perimeter of the Crabbes plant at a cost of

US $20,000.  Add that to the cost of the membranes and we’re fairly close to $1 million.  Probably more with unforeseen cost overruns but let’s use a nice round number like $1 million.  On to the medium-term outlook.

The medium-term plan is divided into four.  In no particular order the list consists of the upgrade of a 14-inch transmission line from Factory Road to the Buckley line. That comes in at

US $100,000. There will also be new high-density polyethylene pipes to replace the old cast iron pipes from Newgate Street to Dickenson Bay Street in Point.  All at a cost of US $570,000.  Next is the re-piping of Michael’s Village and Ovals at a cost of US $100,000.  And last but not least, the medium to long-term plan calls for the construction of a 500,000-gallon-daily reverse osmosis plant, to be placed in the Fort James area at a cost of

US $1,500,000.  A quick tally … US $2,270,000.  Let’s see what the future holds, shall we?

In the long term, APUA intends to add a two-million gallon reverse osmosis plant to its stock of plants. That will come in at about

US $3,500,000 and it is intended to increase the

supply potential of potable water from 8 million to 10 million gallons daily.  So, taking a step back, our water woes can be fixed for about less than US $7 million.  That seems very reasonable and should now be placed firmly on the top of the priority list.

Water is truly necessary for life.  In fact, it is the most essential thing in our lives, as such, it should trump many of the other money-sapping projects when it comes to access to our limited funds.  For example, how did the budget-busting building of the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Marine Services and Merchant Shipping (ADOMS) headquarters ever take precedence over a water plan?  Okay, that money is spent and we cannot get a redo but looking forwards, is it reasonable to spend EC$8 million on an unnecessary downtown building and millions more in refurbishment costs when that money could cover the short and medium-term plans presented by APUA?  

The exact timing of these plans are unknown but if the $8+ million could be made available near immediately, as it would be in a building purchase, the timeline could surely be crunched and relief could be delivered to the people sooner.   The government has already highlighted the need for the better supply of water stating that “continuous growth in the economy, including a significant expansion in the number of hotel rooms, will result in the increased demand for potable water” and the need to “ensure the provision of potable water to the satellite residential communities around the city, to the business center of St. John’s, and a guaranteed supply to cruise and cargo vessels utilising the ports of St. John’s.”  So, there seems little argument that water trumps all ‘discretionary’ projects.  After all, water is not a discretionary item.

Be that as it may, there will be the spin-doctors who will say that financing for buildings is easier because they have built-in collateral, but that is not how financing works.  Loans and investments require a revenue stream to support the financing and we dare say that the revenue from the supply of a necessary item like water, outstrips any revenue that can be derived from the rental of a building.  

In the final analysis, we thank APUA for developing and delivering a plan.  We hope that the government will see the benefits of making the APUA water plan a top priority and will put the interests of the many before the interests of a few.  Until then, let us keep looking to the sky for more relief.

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