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Sando’s first reservoirs neglected

Published: 
Monday, March 21, 2016
Snake Valley’s treasures...
(Above) San Fernando Mayor Kazim Hosein points to a water reservoir built in 1898 at Snake Valley which is at the base of San Fernando Hill. PHOTOS: KRISTIAN DE SILVA (Below) The wall of the water reservoir at Snake Valley.

Nestled at the base of the San Fernando hill, in an area known as Snake Valley, lie the ruins of the city’s first water reservoirs. However, even though the hill has been marked as a nature park, Snake Valley remains neglected and has become home to squatters.

Built by the British in 1898, the reservoirs stand a few metres away from Carib Street, where the city’s first power generation plant once operated. The roots of majestic trees snake around the century-old ruins, while leaves litter the base of the structure. 

A makeshift bed, a plastic canopy and a few utensils were seen on the edge of one of the reservoirs while two wooden shacks were seen further up the hill where an army bunker is situated. 

A woman, clad only in a bra and skirt, was seen walking out of the bunker. 

In a recent interview, historian and lecturer in history Dr Jerome Teelucksingh said the neglect of Snake Valley is a public embarrassment which shows the country’s ignorance and lack of appreciation for its history. 

Teelucksingh said it was a public shame that the Snake Valley reservoirs are used for squatting.

“I believe the mayor as well as the relevant ministry need to take urgent action. We need to enforce laws against squatters particularly in areas where there are heritage sites which are valuable to the legacy of this country,” Teelucksingh said.

He said that teachers should organise field trips to these sites.

“The army bunker represents the military history of T&T and our involvement in the world wars, while the water reservoir is important to see how water was stored more than a century ago,” Teelucksingh said.

Saying too much money was being spent to restore the Red House, Teelucksingh called for some of this money to be spent to preserve Snake Valley. Some $400 million was budgeted for the restoration of this country’s seat of Parliament, and already $150 million has been spent over the past eight years, with little progress.

Prime Minister Keith Rowley told Parliament last week that the multi-million project will now be completed with major adjustments, including the scrapping of the previous tender and the opening of a new tender in July. The building is expected to be handed over in mid-2018.

“For too long we have not given sufficient attention to the landmarks sites and archeological sites. We need to bring into the national discourse why these sites are not being maintained and preserved. I would not be surprised if, in the future, we see a building going up over the site,” Teelucksingh said.

Hazam Mohammed, who played as a child in the foothills of the Naparimas, said it was time for the Government to recognise the importance of preserving Snake Valley as a historical site.

“This infrastructure is more than 100 years old and it is still standing. Every day people are in San Fernando and they do not know this place exists,” Mohammed said. 

Because of frequent robberies, hikers no longer use the path. The neighbouring Naparima Girls’ High School has erected a fence to prevent hillside stragglers from entering the school.

Higher up the hill from Snake Valley is an area called Death Valley.

“We used to climb up to Death Valley, grab those leaves and use it to skate down the hill until we reached Snake Valley. After that we used to play in the reservoir,” Mohammed recalled.

CEO of the Corporation, Indarjit Singh, said the city council currently has no say in the maintenance and operations of the hill, so it cannot protect Snake Valley.

“We have seen people living on the hill but we cannot do anything about it. If the council was in charge, we could see about relocating these people and preserving this site. This is our back door and the Corporation should have a say in terms of the resources required to operate and manage the activities on the hill,” Singh said. 

San Fernando City Mayor Kazim Hosein, who visited the site yesterday, said he, too, had played football inside the empty reservoirs.

“It’s been about 20 years since I visited here and it is still the same,” Hosein said. He said he planned to consult with central government to have the area preserved as a heritage site.

Historian on water wells

Meanwhile, historian Angelo Bissessarsingh said the wells were built to supply the city during the 1800s when San Fernando struggled for water. 

“Four ponds—one on Pond Street in Vistabella, one at Les Efforts on the present site of Sapa, one at Mon Repos and another in Paradise pasture—supplied a bad quality of water in the dry season, which caused the spread of cholera and typhoid fever,” Bissessarsingh said.

“Moreover, three of these ponds were owned by sugar estates and were fenced, with a watchman placed in the dry season to ensure that too much was not taken by the people of the town. Cattle and other livestock shared the water,” Bissessarsingh said.

He noted that the Borough Council built stone troughs at La Pique, Harris Promenade, Broadway and King’s Wharf, which were filled with barrels of water brought by carts from these ponds. Policemen had to be stationed at the troughs—called “dippers”—where there were often fights.

Once, in the late 1870s, two women argued over their place in the queue for water; one fatally stabbed the other in her chest.

“After 1882 it was so bad, tankers had to be sent from Port-of-Spain by railway in the dry season where people would line up with buckets at the station to receive a daily supply,” Bissessarsingh said. He said that in 1881 wells had been bored on Carib Street, but these became impregnated with petroleum and were declared unfit for consumption.

“The problem was not resolved until 1899 when a pipe was laid from the Montserrat Hills, feeding a reservoir on Pointe-a-Pierre Road, wherein wholesome water was finally piped through the town,” Bissessarsingh said.