Editorial: What was the plan for the new water?

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It struck us as odd that the Cabinet was unaware that the substandard, aging water distribution network plays a significant factor in our water woes. We covered it as a story, but it was hardly news, save and except, that Cabinet seemingly was unaware.
For how long have the distribution networks of the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) been major contributors to the ineffective distribution of water and electricity? It seems like an eternity to us. Just about a year ago, we received good news that APUA had begun an island-wide upgrade of the 69kV network – you know, those tall grey towers with the high-tension wires at the top? The project started in the Bethesda community, and, back then, Electricity Manager Andre’ Matthias said the line, which has been in place from 1986, was in poor condition.
While talking of the electricity network at the start of the project, Matthias said, “There is quite a bit of losses within the network, about 30 percent, and the poor condition of the line would have contributed to the losses. We actually want to be a bit more flexible in terms of the transmitting of power to the substation, so we will be increasing the conductor size to be able to do that.”
With few changes, the water manager could have probably used nearly the exact same words about the water distribution network on the island, and just like the electricity statement, people would have shrugged and said, “We know that!”
Now we hear that the utility company officials have been given three weeks to come up with a plan to address weaknesses in the water distribution network. Not that we are looking a gift horse in the mouth because we welcome that something is being done, but we heard about these issues way back with the Antigua Labour Party (ALP), then the United Progressive Party (UPP), and now the current administration.
So, what is our gripe? It is not a gripe but more of an observation. Once again, it appears that we put the cart before the horse just to get some feel-good political headlines. We rushed to put new water production facilities in place without the distribution network to distribute the water they produced.
Didn’t anyone put their hand up when the plans were being drawn up and say, “Excuse me, but all that water will not help if we cannot distribute it.” Wasn’t there an engineer in the room when all the new plants were being discussed? Or was he or she ignored? How about Minister Yearwood? He has to be extremely knowledgeable of the weaknesses in our water distribution network from his previous stint as minister responsible for APUA years ago.
According to the Information Minister Melford Nicholas, we have the capacity to produce more than enough water for the nation, almost seven million gallons daily, but the distribution network cannot handle the pressure – literally. The pressure required to distribute the water effectively is causing burst pipes, so we have to throttle down production.
And if you want to get an idea of how old this problem is, Nicholas says that some of our pipes are old cast iron pipes!
These pipe are so old that “there has been quite a bit of restriction of the bore of these pipes to ensure that there is sufficient water flowing in these pipes to get to the consumers.“ We do not even want to think what is in those pipes to cause that severe of a restriction.
In attempting to provide some explanation, Nicholas said, “There’s always a gap between the observance of a problem, the identification of the solution, and the implementation of the particular solution.” Okay, we accept that. But (you knew there had to be a “but”) we started observing the problem a long time ago. And we will go out on a limb and say APUA has identified a solution – again, a long time ago. So, we have been lingering in the “implementation of the particular solution” for a long, long time.
Obviously, the current administration did not cause the decay in the infrastructure. But government is continuous, and it now falls in their lap. They devised an action plan to install greater water production capacity, (for which they are to be commended) but seemed to completely overlook the distribution side.
This comes back to planning and the well-known phrase, “failing to plan is planning to fail.” It would do us all a lot of good to heed those wise words.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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