WATER TALKS: Desalcott managing director John Thompson, left, and WASA’s acting CEO Kelvin Romain at the press conference on Friday at the Ministry of Public Utilities in St Clair. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB –
A DROP in production at the Desalination Company of TT (Desalcott) in Pt Lisas, which has affected water distribution to large swathes of south Trinidad, is being blamed on an unusually high build-up of algae in the plant’s pipes.
This was the explanation offered by Desalcott general manager John Thompson during a media conference at the Ministry of Public Utilities, Alexandra Street, St Clair on Friday afternoon.
Algal blooms are the rapid increase in the amount of algae in a particular area, to the point where they may be visible to the naked eye, appearing green, reddish-brown or blue.
He said when the Pt Lisas plant opened in 2006, there were no algal blooms, but rising sea-water temperatures caused by climate change had made the phenomenon more severe in recent times.
Thompson said steps have been taken to reduce blockage in the plant’s intake system, but the sheer volume of algae remains a challenge.
“We have to deal with those organics by chlorinating, and to stop the multiplying, we have added chemicals for them to clump together (so they) would be easier to move through our sedimentation and filtration systems.
“Nonetheless, it’s so much at the moment, filtration systems have been clogged so you can’t pass much water through them, and there’s also some fouling of our membranes, which we have to take offline in sequence to clean. And that’s why our capacity is somewhat reduced.
“We hope the algae blooms will reduce in quantity very shortly and we’ll be back to our full 40 million imperial gallons per day capacity.”
The issue of water shortages in central and south Trinidad, while a constant problem for years, has been thrust into the public spotlight within recent times following a war of words between Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh and Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales.
Gonzales even described Indarsingh as being a “political neemakaram” for claiming the minister had ignored many calls for truck-borne water supplies to affected areas in Indarsingh’s constituency.
Indarsingh’s constituency office manager Sharma Sooknanan, in defending the MP, described Gonzales as a “kulachaan.” Neemakaram and kulachaan are the Hindi words for ungrateful and blight, respectively.
Thompson said the key to dealing with these large volumes of algae was microfiltration, to ease the strain on the existing filtration system.
He said additional investments would introduce microfiltration, but this was costly as well as time-consuming.
“It’s quite an expensive system – we’re talking millions of US dollars – and it won’t be quick, we’re talking about somewhere in the region of 12 months.
“Perhaps in 2024, we are also improving our back-washing system so we can clean the medium filters more quickly than we do at the moment.”
WASA’s acting CEO Kelvin Romain also attended the media briefing and said the capacity of the Desalcott plant had dropped by about 36 to 38 per centowing to the algal bloom.
He said as a short-term solution, the authority would redirect water throughout the southern part of the island, using plants in Penal and Siparia, as well as the Navet water supply.
WASA’s operations manager Shahira Ali said the disruption caused by the algae affected communities in central and southwest Trinidad, with 172,000 people affected in the southwestern region and 242,000 people affected by the Caroni-Desalcott system.
She noted the authority was co-ordinating resources to bring some relief to these communities.
“We did ensure our communication strategy was implemented where we would have been liaising with the different councillors and commercial entities to ensure they were still receiving that adequate supply that is critical.
“All in all, we were able to manage somewhat (but) we are however still relying on the system normalising and once Desalcott is able to overcome this issue, we look forward to going back to the contracted volumes and our system will normalise.”
In the wake of floods late last year, Minister Gonzales, in a media release, expressed disappointment over Desalcott’s decision to shut down operations for ten days to facilitate maintenance works as several communities needed water for clean-up activities.
The maintenance works lasted from November 29 to December 8.
Outside of these issues, Romain said repairs at a ruptured raw water main at the Freeport water treatment plant was expected to be completed by midday today (Saturday), with an additional 24 hours needed for service to normalise.
He also noted that WASA began a series of projects to enhance the capacities of the treatment plant which would boost their output.
“Those projects have already started in the form of drilling of three wells, we expect the wells to be completed by June into July of this year which would see an additional 1.2 million gallons of water going into the Freeport plant, this obviously means the Freeport plant would be producing approximately 3.5 million gallons per day.”
AREAS WITH WATER ISSUES:
Freeport, Waterloo, California, Dow Village, Balmain, Claxton Bay, Pointe-a-Pierre, San Fernando, Philippines, La Romaine, Hermitage, Otaheite, Rousillac and La Brea.