Amidst strike action by employees last week and growing agitation by members of the public over the quality of its service, WASCO has launched the John Compton Dam rehabilitation project in Millet. The project is expected to not only stabilize and improve the supply of water locally, but particularly throughout the dry season. The initiative is expected to create benefits to Saint Lucia by simultaneously creating employment WASCO says.
The dredging and the de-silting of the John Compton Dam has been a major source of controversy here, with critics claiming that the dam was not maintained and de-silted regularly, as was required. Hurricane Tomas and other adverse weather systems only made matters worse.
In April 2013 the National Water and Sewerage Commission established and approved a “Dredging Fee” for the purpose of de-silting the dam. The Commission believed that if the dredging would take only two years to complete at a cost of six million dollars, then it was necessary to decouple the cost for the dredging from the new tariff, since the dredging was more consistent with a project. A dredging fee of 10.43% was subsequently attached to the bills of consumers. As at 30th April 2015, the Dredging Fund account balance was reported at EC $8,433,235.19. Funds from this account have been used for the payment of a study commissioned to delineate the way forward for the dredging project.
According to WASCO the overall project will aid in improving public health of residents and is expected to improve life quality with fewer disruptions, social and economic losses which may be experienced as a direct result of water shortages and dry spells. However, some remain sceptical, recalling that these same words were expressed when the dam was opened.
“This project will be one of the most important projects ever undertaken by government. We need to value the resource we have here which is the water. With regards to the climate change conditions which have been happening around the globe, we know the effect it is having on our water systems in this country and hence the reason I say this will be one of the most important projects ever undertaken by any entity in Saint Lucia,” said Desmond Long, MP for Anse La Raye/Canaries at the launch of the project.
Division Chief for the Caribbean Development Bank, Andrew Dupigny, also spoke: “The Roseau water shed and the reservoir behind the John Compton water shed should provide water security for approximately 93,000 residents in the northern districts of Castries, Gros Islet and part of Anse La Raye.”
He pointed out that these areas contain much of the nationally essential social and economic infrastructure of Saint Lucia. “Hence the sustainable operation of the John Compton Dam is of critical link to the overall sustainability of the Saint Lucian economy,” Dupigny said.
He continued: “The project will result in a number of positive impacts. It will include the reliability of the water supply during the dry season . . . and thereby improve public health to the residents and their overall quality of life.”
Other benefits would include a reduction in disruption and the losses experienced by businesses and schools that have been affected by water outages in the dry season over the past few years. It would also facilitate economic growth in the north by increasing water availability. It will provide direct and indirect employment for approximately 40 people during the construction and will include the resiliency of the dam to sedimentation events caused by severe rainfall. WASCO revenue will also increase, as more water will be available for sale during the dry season.
Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Economic Affairs, Planning and Social Security, Kenny Anthony, as part of his address said, “Finally, after several years, we are taking some critical and crucial steps and it has not been easy to come to this position, because there have been repeated evaluations by all kinds of teams to assess our options.” He went on to admit that he was worried when he noticed a drought in the rainy season and requested an emergency plan to be put in place.