As if there weren’t enough problems with the woefully inadequate pipe-borne supply from WASA, worrying reports about fraud and other questionable activities involving the truck-borne supply are now added to the long list of issues at the debt-ridden utility.

Customers say they are paying up to $1,000 to get their tanks filled by private operators contracted by WASA to deliver truck-borne water. Even more disturbing are reports that these contractors, who are supposed to fill up with water from WASA’s installations, have instead been siphoning water from rivers that might be contaminated and unsafe for human consumption.

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales got first-hand accounts of the situation from residents of Lady Chancellor Hill when he visited the area earlier this week. It is a matter that demands his urgent intervention.

The affected residents have been completely dependent on a truck-borne supply for the past seven years, so it is outrageous—to put things very mildly—that they are being made to dip into their pockets to pay contractors who already collect a tidy sum from WASA to provide water trucking services.

Also, it adds considerable insult to that injury that the water being put into the tanks of these customers might not even be potable.

This is another frightening twist to a dire water supply situation in this country that has been decades in the making. The fact that there is such a heavy dependence on a truck-borne supply is by itself a significant failure on the part of WASA and unfortunately, that situation is not unique to Lady Chancellor Hill.

Very few parts of the country get a 24/7 pipe-borne supply of water. Most communities have been put on a schedule which promises a few hours of supply in the pipes once or twice a week but even this is unreliable.

These and other chronic inefficiencies prompted Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to appoint a Cabinet sub-committee to investigate the operations of WASA. Even without the report handed in by that sub-committee late last year, the challenges facing WASA over many decades were already well known.

There is, for example, the fact that the utility requires funding from the state to keep functioning and is saddled with unsustainable operating costs, including a huge wage bill.

Over the 55 years of its existence, WASA’s daily water production has increased by 400 per cent from 45 million gallons per day (mgd) to approximately 220 mgd but as much as 50 per cent of this treated water is lost through leaks across the utility’s ageing pipeline system.

The illegal sale of water—untreated water at that—demands immediate action, so it is a good thing that Minister Gonzales has made WASA one of the main priorities during his tenure. He has been very outspoken about the many issues at the water company and should be well aware of the size of the task he has taken on.

In these challenging times of COVID-19, when public health should be at the forefront of national concerns, citizens should be guaranteed a safe and reliable water supply.

Over to you, Minister Gonzales.