Poor Tomas! He seems to have taken the fall for nearly everything wrong with Saint Lucia. Ever since the storm, without any warning, hit in October 2010, Tomas has been blamed for our poor infrastructure, the comatose economy and other diasters too numerous to mention.
And now it’s the deplorable state of the Roseau Dam for which Tomas is being held responsible. This being the dry season, the situation is particularly vexing. Already a water emergency has been declared for the north of the island. But is the culprit really Tomas? Not according to the expert we talked with this week.
Victor Hamlin, a native of Argentina who has been in Saint Lucia for the past 22 years, says there is more to the story. Hamlin came to Saint Lucia in 1992 and was one of the individuals who worked on the construction of the dam.
“Of the persons who were brought to Saint Lucia specially to build the dam,” he said, “I am the only one still living here. I live here with my family, became a Saint Lucian and I am in love with this country. However there are several misconceptions about the dam and I would like to educate Saint Lucians and the authorities about some of them.”
Hamlin, who has “worked all over the world as a dredger,” says he has done several inspections of the Roseau Dam over the years.
“Six or seven years after the dam was built,” he said, “we started having silting problems.” He is convinced a continuous dredging process would have gotten the mud and silt out of the dam and the space reoccupied by water.
“This job should’ve started 10 or 12 years ago,” said Hamlin, “because after four or five years the silt was already building up. We finished the dam in 1996/97, because we had Hurricane Debbie which also caused some destruction. We had to rebuild it.”
Hamlin revealed that originally the dam was built with two intakes to suck up water: a top intake and a bottom intake. The bottom intake, which was already heavy with silt, was compromised further by Hurricane Tomas and has now been covered by silt.
“So the two levels that we had, we don’t have them anymore,” he explained. “There is mud a couple of feet under the top of the bottom intake where we suck water out of the dam. So, any more mud and silt that come in will finish off the dam, because the bottom intake is already under more than 20-25 feet of mud at least.
“The top intake only gives us around 30 days of consumption of water. So if it doesn’t rain for about 30-40 days we have major problems and that’s the emergency right now.”
Solving the problem will come at a cost and will take time. How long? Five to six years, according to Hamlin. “But it can be done and it can be done by Saint Lucians,” he stated.
Hamlin told the STAR that he has been in conversation with the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) for the past four years about the concept of dredging.
“Ever since Tomas, the silt problem has been mentioned. But nothing has been done about it. Governments have been sitting on this and nobody has been willing to tackle it. We have local companies here, we have the boats, the dredgers, and they have the know-how. There are different ways of doing it; you can suck it, pump it, it can be done with a crane or other equipment. There’s no need to go outside the country and spend money that we don’t have. The local contractors are the cheapest option for the government at this present time.”
The monumental task will be finding a place for all the silt, Hamlin warned. “Once you take the silt out you need a suitable place to put it. And when I say a place, I’m talking about approximately an area of about 4 or 5 football fields at least, and piles of silt about 90 feet high. So just imagine the amount of mud that’s underneath there.”
According to Hamlin, a local company was promised they would be starting the job on the dam, but first they were to build a road to fix the area to access the dam.
“The job was done, the road was built and afterwards the conversation finished. That was about a year and a half ago. The whole of last year went by and nothing was decided, they created water commissions, created a whole lot of apparatus and brought technicians that don’t know a thing.”
Hamilton told us Monday that the government needs to stop wasting time and start devising a plan of action to desilt the dam as a matter of urgency. Failure to do so will result in a major water crisis which may have already started.
Additional reporting by Kerwin Caesar.