Water restrictions cause major problems over Easter weekend

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 20, No. 14            April 8, 2010

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    A press release issued on March 31st, 2010 by Belize Water Services Limited (BWS) spoke of the possibility of restricting or rationing the water supply on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye: BWS hereby informs residents and visitors to San Pedro that, should the available supply continue to diminish, the company will have no choice but to restrict or ration water over the Easter Weekend. Easter is one of the biggest tourism weekends on Ambergris Caye. On Tuesday, when the four day holiday was all over, hotels, restaurants, local residents and tourists could not believe that throughout the weekend, the island had to experience a shortage of water caused because, according to the BWS release, BWS has not been receiving adequate supplies of water from Consolidated Water Belize Ltd (CWBL), the private company that operates the Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment Plant on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.

    As stated in their release, the underlying issue was that BWS was not receiving adequate supplies of water from CWBL. An interview with Jon Kiss, Overseas Operations Engineer for the company, revealed that CWBL did indeed deliver and met the water demand by BWSL. The issue discussed in the press release is a problem that stemmed from the fact that CWBL has been experiencing unusual matter clogging the filter membranes of the plant. He explained that, “something is fouling [tainting] our feed water causing the plant to run at a reduced capacity. It is an issue that has happened over the past few months and we have tried to get an idea as to what has been occurring.” In order to get an idea as to what has been occurring Kiss stated that the membranes and water samples have been sent out for analysis. Once the results are returned, CWBL hopes to ascertain the source of the matter that is clogging their filter membranes. Kiss explained that it has been a big issue for the company since membranes generally have a life span of at least five years. When asked the frequency with which CWBL has had to change their clogged membranes within the span of these few months he said, “too often.” As to the situation which occurred over the weekend, Kiss explained “We had new membranes and did install them just over a week ago but they fouled shortly after. We have just received another set of new membranes but need to address the fouling before installing.” Once more membrane filters arrived on the island, Kiss says, “even if we had changed the membranes we would have had to back flush and clean the system properly and we would not have gained enough capacity to catch up with the necessary production. However, we did manage to meet our obligations with BWSL based on our contract.” Kiss ended by stating, “There are no issues with the plant equipment and we are usually able to run at full capacity, but the fouling has caused a reduction that has been noticeable since sometime around the end of last year.”

    If CWBL was able to meet their obligations with BWSL, why the need to restrict or ration the water supply to the community? Attempts to contact Haydon Brown at BWSL were futile. However, we were informed that the water company is preparing to hold a press conference on Friday, April 9th, 2010 at the Sunbreeze Hotel where they will explain the situation.

    A letter issued by the San Pedro Business Association explains the extent of damage that the shortage of water caused to the island’s tourism industry: This ruined the stay of thousands of tourists during this critical holiday and many will (A) not return to our island and (B) will spread the word that we’re so backward here on Ambergris Caye that it’s hard to even take a shower. Interviews with several hotels reveal that guests were referred to other hotels, others spoke of the unsanitary conditions that the lack of water caused, while some explained that guests actually cut their vacation short because of the shortage of water. As the SPBA letter states, “We’re all 100% dependent on the tourism on the island.

    The island might have experienced a shortage of water over the weekend however water rates did go up on the same day that BWS issued their press release. Effective March 31st, water rates increased by 12.1%. According to the Public Utilities Commission the three reasons for the increase are a deteriorating infrastructure, maintaining BWS’s viability and the reaching out to the small shareholders of a major utility company. As of the next billing period, consumers should expect to see a jump in their monthly water bill. According to Director of Admin and Tariffs Leroy Almendarez, “It is not a 12.1% increase on the dollar, it is basically based on what your consumption level is since it is applied across all bands.” The PUC says the measured increase comes after a revised look at what the commission felt was the minimum investment capital needed by BWS to address those critical expansions and necessary maintenance needed to ensure the effective and reliable distribution of water and sewerage services to its consumers. Director of Water and Waste, Eugene Cleland stated, “You have fees like reconnection fee, transfer fee, water connection fees. Those fees never did change.”

    As mentioned above, BWS is scheduled to have a press conference today. The San Pedro Sun will have an update in next week’s issue.

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