From the Reporter:
Isla Bonita's sewer system 50% unused
The $23 million dollar water sewage treatment system for San Pedro Town is more than 50% under-utilized. Only about 30% of the island residents are connected to the system, Green Reef conservationist Mito Paz told a meeting of international conservationists and tourism representatives at the Belize Yatch Club last Friday.
The prohibitively high cost, close on $2,000, of hooking up to the system is a stumbling block. Belize Water Services Ltd. chief executive officer Peter Wrench explains why, "San Pedro's cost is very high, because we are buying a bulk supply of water from another company named "Belize Water", under a very difficult contract. We are losing money in that area seriously, and that is a problem we have to address; but we are tied into a contract that binds us hand and foot."
Previously to hook up a water or sewer line, there were no existing costs. Presently there is a $150.00 cost for connection to the water supply and a condition of that connection is that the householder must also connect to the sewer system. No sewer hookup, no water hookup! The sewer connection costs $1,650.00! It was agreed that the Infrastructure Expansion Project should be financed mainly by its charges thus falling on the consumer, this was passed into law in January.
Wrench put it in a nutshell: "You do not get anything anywhere for nothing. Whether it is a taxpayer or tariff payer, someone has to pay. If we are putting in water and sewage to a house, either that house pays for it; or all the other people paying water bills pay for it. One way or another, it must be paid; and it was felt that the people who directly benefit from it must pay for at least of half it."
The system is designed to hold sewage while it is treated and eventually surplus water would be run off on the leeward side of the island, but Green Reef's Mito Paz told the meeting that at present the plant produces no runoff because of the small volume of sewage being treated. The fact that the sewer system does not extend to the new housing areas means that apart from the large hotels, most other residents are still relying on their septic tanks.
This means a $23 million investment is largely going to waste! The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), with the support of the Belize government, borrowed $23 million dollars to expand the reverse osmosis water treatment plant and build the sewer system for the island in 1996. The move made economic sense after reef conservationists sounded the alarm that the overflow from island residents' septic tanks was contaminating the ground water of the island. Aside from the health hazard it posed for residents drinking well water, the possibility of sewage damaging the reef, threatened the sustainability of the island's tourism industry.
When the plant became operational, government warned WASA's clients in the rest of the country that WASA would need to raise their water rates to help pay the cost of the loan, but that the sacrifice was deemed necessary to protect a national treasure: the Barrier Reef.
In the late 80's when WASA first introduced sewers in Belize City, most homeowners got a $80 subsidy from WASA to hook up to the sewer system. At the time, the sewer project funded by a loan from the Canadian International Development agency (CIDA), and $80 bought a lot more 4-inch pipe than it does today.