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Hotels facing cancellations: Water shortage hits Tobago’s tourism

Published: 
Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) plans to increase its well-drilling programme as it moves to identify new water sources to address the shortfall in the water supply to Tobago.

Over the past several months Tobago has been reeling under the pressure of low water supplies. The situation has impacted most significantly the tourism industry with president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association, Chris James, telling the GML Enterprise Desk “hotels are already facing cancellations because of the problem.”

The development comes on the heels of a prediction by the Met Service that parts of the Caribbean, including T&T, will face a severe drought this dry season. James confirmed that WASA trucks in Tobago have been doing yeoman service “with a daily supply of water to hotels.” However, he said it was just not enough. 

“You can turn off the water and try to regulate the supply but we need much more than the 2,000 gallons of water we get a day,” he said.

WASA, through its communications manager Daniel Plenty, told the GML Enterprise Desk the authority was also concerned about the situation in Tobago. He said: “It is actively engaging the attention of management with a view to bringing the situation under control and within acceptable levels to supply the needs of the hoteliers and the wider business community.”

Plenty said the water supply to segments of Tobago was currently being impacted “by significantly reduced production at several of WASA’s water treatment facilities on the island.” 

That cut in production, he added, was due in part to “dry weather conditions which have extended from last year’s dry season into the wet season 2015 and now to the 2016 dry season.”

Currently the two major water treatment plants in Tobago—Courland and Hillsborough—are producing at 20 per cent and 40 per cent capacity respectively. According to Plenty that was “significantly below where it should be at this time of the year.”

Other water sources in Tobago, such as Hillsborough West, Highlands Road and Kings Water Treatment Plants, he said, were “presently generating 30 per cent of normal production” and the Hillsborough Dam was in urgent need of desilting. As a result Crown Point and environs, Scarborough, Mt St George, Concordia, John Dial, Mason Hall, King’s Bay and Speyside are all experiencing water problems.

However, residents in Tobago are raising questions about the low water supply. They recalled that several years ago EarthWater Technologies Inc came in to do a well water project and there was a promise that Tobago had enough ground water and therefore should not experience water problems. James recalls that WASA had promised that Tobago would get a 24/7 water supply but he said that was indicative of how Tobago was treated.

“We are told an awful lot of things but the sad reality is that nothing is happening,” he said. 

The water problems in Tobago started last year but James said they were even more concerned that less than two months into the new year “things are so bad.” He wants to know “where are the wells which EarthWater drilled ten years ago? Were they really drilled or just identified?” he asked.

James said they were told that when the wells came on stream “Tobago would no longer have water problems because there are millions of gallons of water which can be safely accessed” but the reality which Tobago faces, he added, was far different. James said the WASA people on the ground in Tobago did everything they could.

“Whether they have enough water trucks I don’t know. The water trucks up and down filling up tanks. There is just no water in the pipeline. The authorities need to tell us what is happening,” he added.

He said: “It was bad last year but it started much later. These last few months have been horrendous. My biggest concern is that we don’t know how we will get through the next few months. We have Jazz Festival and normally it’s very busy in the period leading up to Easter.”

COSTLY NEW WELLS—WASA

WASA admitted the concerns being raised were “legitimate.” Plenty told us the authority was now in active discussions with the Tobago House of Assembly to address those concerns and some of the areas to be addressed. One option, according to Plenty, is to “increase our well drilling programme to identity new water sources.” Doing that, he said, would come at significant cost for the authority.

In the meantime, he said, WASA had increased water trucking at no cost to recipients and had increased communication with key stakeholders. “WASA is also looking into the expansion of ground water supplies through the equipping of new wells,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the harsh dry season is not just impacting Tobago. Several parts of Trinidad are also facing problems and Plenty said WASA would be publishing water schedules shortly.