WASA tightens valve on leaking lines

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

WASA workers repair a ruptured main line near the Curepe overpass in Valsayn on March 14.

LAST week’s major leak in Valsayn affecting thousands of customers of Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) in East Trinidad amid water restrictions imposed for the 2024 Dry Season, including the ban on the use of hoses, has again raised concerns about the amount of water wasted through leaks both large and small.

In 2017, then Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte said 50 per cent of the water produced by the WASA is lost through leaks before even reaching the consumer. He was speaking at the Rotary Club of Port of Spain’s post-budget luncheon on October 17.

On March 10, WASA put out a full-page ad refuting this figure, which said “These are the facts – WASA does not lose 50 per cent of its water to leaks and has never released any data to this effect. While the authority has publicised its challenges regarding high levels of non-revenue water (NRW), it must be noted that this category of water loss includes leaks, illegal connections and unauthorised consumption.”

In response to questions from Newsday, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales decried the persistence of the statistic. The authority’s total daily water production capacity is approximately 243 imperial million gallons per day.

Asked about the current NRW figures, Gonzales said WASA was currently working on its annual water balance, which would provide further updates on NRW levels. “It is really sad that the media continue to rely on that statement made how many years ago and not even recent statements by me or by WASA. It is wholly inaccurate for anyone to contend that half of WASA’s water is lost through physical leaks. If that was the case, then converted into gallons that would have been 120 million gallons a day. Absolute madness. We would have been driving to work in a boat.”

He said WASA had cleaned up its leak backlog to under 500, down from 5,000 three years ago. “There has been a changeover of over 15 kilometres of high leakage pipelines around the country. This is the continued strategy to reduce NRW and physical losses on the pipeline infrastructure.”

He said NRW performance metrics were used by water utility companies to measure their performance relating to unbilled consumptions, illegal connections, unbilled metered consumption, etc, and was endorsed by the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA).

“Non-revenue water comprises the following components, real losses, apparent losses, and unbilled authorised consumption. Apparent and real losses can be further subdivided into unauthorised consumption, meter inaccuracies, leakage in transmission and distribution mains, storage tank leaks and service connection leaks up to the meter.

“Unbilled authorised consumption describes unbilled metered consumption and unbilled unmetered consumption. What does this actually mean? We are all stakeholders in contributing to this 50 per cent figure, both WASA and the public. Let us therefore recognise our joint investment in reducing this figure through various water conservation efforts, while WASA expeditiously treats with its infrastructural issues.”

Speaking at the Met Service Dry Season Outlook event, WASA acting operations director Shaira Ali said reduced water availability was a result of decreased rainfall and as a consequence facilities which draw water from surface sources such as reservoirs, rivers, and rural intakes across the country experience a noteworthy decline in production, sometimes as much as 35 per cent.

She said WASA considered the data and predictions for rainfall and reservoir levels provided by the Met Service, and the Water Resources Agency in its plan to deal with dry season water management.

She said the plan identified five main objectives for its successful implementation: the assessment of water availability (rainfall, reservoir levels and water production) and its impact on storage facilities; the development and implementation of projects to integrate new sources into the current distribution/transmission system to increase the level of service to underserved and unserved areas; the development of mitigation measures inclusive of short, to medium-term projects/initiatives (including capital projects) to optimise water production/distribution and ensure equipment reliability; the integration of technological tools to assist in scheduling monitoring and disruptions; and fostering outreach and communication with stakeholders.

In this file photo, water spouts from a WASA main near Beetham Gardens, Port of Spain.

The March 10 advertisement also referenced the Community Water Improvement Programme, which it said had provided first-time or an improved level of service to over 205,000 people in TT.

The programme involved the construction of new booster stations, the development of new production wells, the rehabilitation of water treatment plants, and pipeline installation projects.

Responding to questions from Newsday, WASA said the booster stations built under the CWIP were: Pitch Road Booster, Morvant; Manzanilla North Booster; Tamana Booster; Mendez Drive; Wharf Trace, Maracas St. Joseph; Brazil Booster; Golden Grove Booster, Arouca; French Fort, Shirvan Road and Cut Hill Boosters in Tobago; First People’s Booster Station, Arima; La Finnette and Paramin Boosters, Maraval; Maingot Road Booster, Tunapuna; La Lune, Moruga; Battery Booster, Ft George Road, St. James; and Simeon Road Booster, Petit Valley.

In an interview last week, WASA’s acting CEO Kelvin Romain said WASA also adjusted its water supply schedule to customers to combat dry season shortages. He said the ones most affected were those supplied by the Caroni and Arena reservoirs. Production at the Caroni-Arena plant was decreased from 75 million gallons per day to 65 million.

He said all five reservoirs in the country are below the long-term averages for the period. Roxborough is three per cent below, Hollis by five per cent, Caroni-Arena by 13 per cent and Navet by ten per cent. Although the levels were below long-term averages over the last three years, he said the margins were smaller.

He attributed the decreased levels to climate change and wastage, especially by those who receive a more regular supply.

The CEO said the authority has been working to repair its infrastructure and even doubled its fleet of water trucks from 30 to 60. WASA said the authority has water trucking filling stations located at various WASA facilities across TT.

However, despite the authorities implementing the measures, many people are experiencing water restrictions. In central Trinidad, between Caroni/St Helena and Mayo/Tortuga, people receive water anywhere from once a week to five days a week.

In addition to boosting the surface water uptake, the authority said it would be increasing the amount of groundwater available for treatment and distribution to customers through a four-part strategy, involving: the completion of routine maintenance work on the authority’s existing groundwater infrastructure to ensure optimal production during the dry season; conversion of several observation wells to production wells; rehabilitation of existing production wells; and installation of new production wells to augment water supply.

The authority said in the past year, it had successfully brought several wells into production, contributing an additional 1.5 imperial million gallons per day to various regions in the country.

These include Aripo, Arouca #12, three wells in Freeport, and Chatham #7 and #14.

Concurrently, the authority internally completed the rehabilitation and development of seven wells in various parts of TT, supplementing the distribution network with a further 330,000 imperial gallons of water per day.

These include Carapal wells #1 & #3, Queen’s Park Savannah well #10, Carapo well, Dorrington and Clarke Road, Matura and Carapo.

Ali said there are plans for the commissioning of several new production wells during the 2024 Dry Season, projected to add another three imperial million gallons of water to the distribution network.

These include three additional wells in Aripo, three wells in Freeport, Mayaro #18, 19, and 20, Granville #18, two new wells in Mary’s Hill, Tobago, and one new well at Signal Hill, Tobago.