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The Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) will soon be undertaking a desilting and rehabilitation study on the John Compton Dam in Roseau, Castries, with support from the Caribbean Development Bank CDB.
This move is aimed at addressing issues being experienced with the dam, and finding a solution to ensure that the water supply to citizens in the north of the island is uninterrupted by any shortage, due to the continuous dry spell currently being experienced.
Managing Director of WASCO Vincent Hippolyte and a team of technical officials took media workers on a tour of the area on Friday (Mar. 28), to get a firsthand look at the issues being experienced.
Hippolyte noted that the main contributors to the dry spell comes from the effects experienced by Hurricane Tomas in 2010, and the 2013 Christmas Eve trough.
The WASCO head said such a situation has never been experienced before and therefore stringent steps must be taken now to resolve it. He said, “It is quite a big problem and it requires a solution which we are hoping to implement this year.”
Hippolyte said the dam was built with a reservoir to accommodate three million cubic meters of water, which is equivalent to 660,000 gallons of water. However, following Hurricane Tomas, an assessment indicated that the dam was compromised by 1.1 million cubic metres of silt. The December 2013 disaster worsened the situation, bringing the level of silt to 1.5 million cubic metres.
“We are of the view now that probably the dam in term of its capacity and the amount of water it is holding is just about half of its designed capacity of three million cubic metres, and that is of concern to us. What must remain is that whatever is done to the dam, it will have to be defined very well, otherwise they might attempt to do something and end up with a huge failure,” he stated.
About half of the reservoir which stretches one and a quarter mile from the mouth of the dam now has a dry surface. This same area contained at least 50-60 feet of water at one time. “All that material has came down and compromised the dam. However, it didn’t come from the dam, but the catchment areas and it’s about 50 square kilometers … it’s quite a huge area that feeds into the dam,” he explained.
Hippolyte noted that desilting the dam alone will not solve the problem, but something must be done in the catchment areas, because there has also been frequent landslides, which adds to the problem. Addressing both issues therefore goes hand in hand and could possibly solve the entire issue.
“So the project we are looking at must look at the upper catchment areas and it must include the desilting the dam and finding a way to stabilise the slopes within the dam and it must also include the infrastructure of the dam, either looking to increase the capacity of the dam or finding a way of ensuring you sustain the capacity that currently existed all of that will be studied,” he explained.
WASCO’s managing director said his company is working closely with CDB and have already found expression of interest from 14 firms. Five of these firms have been shortlisted and are going to be presented with requests for proposals. A firm will then be selected to undertake the proposed disilting and rehabilitation study.
Hippolyte assured that the social and economic factors that are associated with the project will be taken into consideration. A tender document will then be made available and a firm will be identified to do the works.
However, the undertaking of this project has been described by German engineers who visited the site as an”open head surgery.” This means “trying to keep the patient alive while trying to solve the problem,” an engineer said.
Engineers consider this an uncommon situation, because in normal cases, the dam would have to be shut down to facilitate works and re-opened when it is finished, but WASCO’s aim is to keep the dam active, so that the citizens can receive water. The dam is the only water source for the entire north of the island.
Asked whether the issue at hand is a threat to the public Hippolyte said, “It is not a crisis yet. If we do nothing then it can lead into a crisis and doing nothing is not an option. Something must be done. That is why we are on a path to get the problem addressed … dredging and the rehabilitation works should commence in the second half of this year. It is not something that you can take lightly because it’s very complicated and perhaps one of the biggest projects that St Lucia will ever embark on.”
The entire project could take several years before it is completed. In addition to this study, WASCO will put in place a water augmentation plan, to allow them to mobilise additional sources of water to supply the north of the island during a drought.
During the dredging programme, WASCO will mobilise this plan. WASCO said given this situation, citizens should also seek to conserve on the use of water and stop wasting it.