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Trinidad’s WASA Supports United Nations’ Water Mandate

Trinidad’s WASA Supports United Nations’ Water Mandate

Trinidad & Tobago is the third largest economy in the Americas. With its Water & Sewerage Authority, created in 1965, the country is catching up on providing water supplies for the entire population, rich and poor.

In the land of the steel drum lives a population of 1,224,000 people that need water and sewer services, just like everyone else in the world, even as they celebrate carnival in the streets. Yes, the country of Trinidad and Tobago (TT) was the first to develop and play the steel drum, and it pioneered the limbo (dance), soca and calypso (musical styles) as well. Its old time sugarcane fields and the oil fields that replaced them needed water, and so do the natural gas facilities that replaced those.

Trinidad is a small island in the West Indies just north of Venezuela, and just south of Barbados and Grenada. With its sister island of Tobago, it occupies the bottom of a chain of islands from Florida down to Venezuela, called the Caribbean Archipelago. West of the chain is the Caribbean Ocean, within which lie Jamaica and Cuba.

In addition to being the birthplace of calypso-style carnival (as practised in Miami, New York and London), TT is considered the third richest country per capita in the Americas and one of the top 40 in the world. Tiny as it is, it hosts major fossil fuels production facilities for export which, combined with tourism, dominate the economy. While domestic demand in TT is expected to double within the next 25 years, industrial demand is expected to triple.

TT is a signator to the United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals, which targets the reduction of poverty worldwide. Goal number seven reads, in part, “to halve by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation.”

This is the goal of the country’s Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), created in 1965. The country’s dams and water cleansing facilities, along with miles of water and sewer pipelines provide water that keep the singing and dancing going, and all of them are managed by WASA.

Water & Sewer Services

The Water and Sewerage Authority is an amalgam of several pre-existing water agencies that operated primarily for the benefit of the agriculture and petro-chemical industries. The 1965 act that created it set up WASA as a corporate entity with government oversight, focused on a customer-centred business model. One of its mandates – “water security for every sector” – and one of its goals – “the best performing utility in this hemisphere” – ensure that the agency operates sustainably.

Immediately upon its creation WASA undertook responsibility for all existing infrastructure, from the first underground sewer system built in 1861 (Port o’ Spain) and the first dam built in 1936 (Hollis Reservoir) to its most recent pipeline projects enabling over 45,000 people to access water on a 24/7 basis for the first time. September, 2015 marks the 50th year of WASA’s existence.

In addition to providing daily access to fresh water supplies for the majority of its population, the agency committed to upgrading the country’s wastewater system. With recent funding from the International Development Bank the agency will facilitate construction of new wastewater treatment plants and associated collection systems in three currently under-served regions: San Fernando, Malabar, and Maloney catchments. The projects increase treatment coverage from 39% to 45% nationwide and will help safeguard the health of the public and the environment.

Water Availability vs. Climate Change

Even though TT is located in the tropics it, too, has seen changes in weather patterns. Over 58% of the country’s potable water supply comes from surface water and the relatively dry weather last year, extending well into the normal rainy season, resulted in a 50% loss of water supply in several locations. In addition to setting up desalination plants, WASA had to adjust the schedules of water treatment plants to compensate for the decreased water supply.

Plans are now afoot to tap into groundwater sources to cover for the dry spells. According to agency CEO, Gerard York, “The weather phenomena, for which we have no control, points to the importance of having water redundancy in our water delivery systems.”

Further reducing supply, the government noticed over time that the nation’s waters were being seriously polluted – mainly from improper sewage treatment, oil pollution, domestic effluent, agricultural runoff, quarrying, and other industrial effluents. More than 64% of the sites sampled across the country indicated poor quality water health. This, combined with siltation from extensive deforestation, increased the cost of potable water production, threatening its sustainability.

Adopt-A-River Programme

To combat the pollution WASA created an Adopt-A-River program in July, 2013. The program is charged with developing guidelines for the protection, preservation, and management of the country’s rivers and watersheds. According to its website, it aims to “bring awareness to local water pollution issues, and to facilitate the participation of stakeholders towards reducing many of the challenges negatively impacting the country’s watershed and water resources.”

The program coordinates the efforts of existing community and industrial projects to clean up the nation’s waters and protect its 69 watersheds from further contamination. Coordination of efforts reduces redundancy and creates more effective action, and the protection of watersheds helps reduce the expense of making water potable. Both increase sustainability.

Sustainable Operations

WASA was established to provide the country with coordinated water and sewerage services, while functioning as efficiently and sustainably as possible. One of its mission statements is “to sustain a commercialised business while remaining sensitive to our stakeholders and the environment.”

In acting out its mission statement towards sustainable operations, the agency set up an internal audit function that keeps an eye on its performance. These auditors review current business practices and provide information that help mitigate the agency’s organizational risks, e.g. strategies, operations, finances, compliance, and reputation.

The auditing committee has direct access to the board and through them to every aspect of the business. It checks on operational ethics to make sure nothing is done for personal gain, reviews business processes to ensure the achievement of goals, monitors compliance with laws, regulations, and contracts, assures that legal safeguards are in place, and investigates fraud.

This internal monitoring system ensures that WASA operates with full integrity and efficiency in the process of developing sustainable water supplies for the country. With the country’s projected increase in tourism, along with the expected doubling of domestic demand and the tripling of industrial demand, WASA should be able to weather the effects of climate change and still provide adequate water supplies for its people.

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