Water supply back on track by weekend

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 37            September 20, 2001

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"Water supplies on the island should be back to normal by the end of the week," stated Mr. James Kavanagh, General Manager of Belize Water Limited (BWL), the reverse osmosis desalination plant on Ambergris Caye. Water supplies were partially restored last Friday and have remained at fifty percent restoration ever since. A faulty mechanical gear is to blame for this last inconvenience.

    This last water shortage began on Monday, September 3rd when a failure at the desalination plant caused a reduction in supply to the reservoir. According to Mr. Kavanagh, the plant relies on two "trains" to run the plant. If one machine fails, the other can produce water at half the capacity until repairs are made. Reportedly, a worn gear on one of the diesel motors powering the plant started the problems. The spare for this particular gear was being repaired in the United States, forcing a restriction of the water supply to the residents of San Pedro. Operating at half capacity at this point, within six days, the identical gear on the second motor was discovered to be faulty as well. A lack of international flights put a hold on the replacement part being shipped for almost a week.

    Faced with no other options, BWL was forced to install an electric motor to produce water for the island. Since last Friday, the desalination plant has been operating at half capacity, shutting down service through the night in order to build the level of the storage tank. Mr. Kavanagh explained the San Pedro water supply tank holds some 300,000 gallons of water or enough for a little over a day's normal water consumption by residents. This allows enough time for either BWL or Belize Water Service (BWS) to repair or maintain equipment without depriving islanders of this precious commodity. He added that the odds of both of these gears being faulty at the same time are phenomenal. The gears are said to have an 18-year life expectancy and the plant has only been operational since 1996.

    BWL stated that previous to August of this year, they had not experienced any problems or deficiencies with respect to the quality of water supplied to BWS. This latest episode though, is the second time in two months residents were forced to suffer through periods without water. The first water outage resulting from the desalination plant on the 6th of August was ruled contamination by sabotage. According to BWL some type of crude oil was found in the water. The recent events leave some residents questioning the maintenance of the plant while others suggest a better contingency plan if BWL plans to provide for the growing needs of the island.

    The good news is that the replacement gear was to arrive Wednesday and is expected to be installed by the end of the week. At that time, the plant will operate with one diesel and one electric-powered motor until the other gear can be repaired. The desalination plant should be fully functional then, making clean water for the island once again.



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