The Hon. Adrian Gibson, Executive Chairman, Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) addressed the 16th High-Level Forum for Caribbean Ministers responsible for water and presented a case study on the Bahamas’ Recovery from Hurricane Dorian – Lessons Learned. Participants in the virtual forum, October 27-28, also included heads of water utilities, international and regional development banks (Inter-American Development Bank, Caribbean Development Bank) Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association, other regional and international partners.
Mr. Gibson’s address included a video presentation which featured the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Dorian, an outline of post Hurricane Dorian’s initial assessment, restoration efforts and the way forward. Between September 1 st and 3 rd 2019, the Hurricane left catastrophic damage, loss of lives and injuries in both Grand Bahama and Abaco. Mr. Gibson said, “Hurricane Dorian caused significant damage to the Corporation’s water and sewerage infrastructure, both on the mainland and those surrounding cays that are serviced by the Corporation. These areas include: Grand Cay, Green Turtle Cay, Moores Island and Sweetings. “Two of WSC’s largest wellfields are situated in Abaco. These wellfields suffered extensive salt water intrusion due to a reported 30-plus feet storm surge.
As a result, both the Marsh Harbour and Treasure Cay wellfields were inundated and subject to massive flooding. Combined, these wellfields produce some two million imperial gallons of water per day. Additionally, WSC suffered substantial damage to its water resources and infrastructure, its vehicular fleet, heavy equipment and multiple offices.”
A team from the WSC conducted a site inspection in Grand Bahama and met with Grand Bahama Utility Company to assess losses and discuss collaborative efforts to restore and reconstruct Grand Bahama and the affected islands, for which WSC has oversight.
Employees of the Abaco offices suffered extensive damage to their homes, vehicles and personal belongings during the passage of Hurricane Dorian. Assistance by the Corporation to staff in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian included to paid leave, financial assistance, care packages and counselling.
The Exec. Chairman said WSC is facing “unprecedented” challenges due to a combination of circumstances, namely the impact of Hurricane Dorian on Abaco – the second highest revenue generator and the onset of Covid-19, which has resulted in the disconnection of residential customer’s accounts. “The overall initial damage assessment was in the order of $15M to $20M. Over the last year, with on-going works by ourselves and independent contractors and in-depth assessments, we note that that figure has increased by $13 to $15 million and I have indicated to government that we will be seeking more funding in an effort to reconstruct and fully restore Abaco systems,” he said.
He informed that water has been restored to 11 water supply systems in The Abacos. However, two systems on the mainland and two systems on remote islands/cays receive water supply between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. “With the aid of a Contingent Loan for Natural Disaster Emergencies between the Government of The Bahamas and the Inter-American Development Bank, WSC shifted its focus from restoration to major reconstruction commencing with the procurement for the reconstruction of its water and sewerage systems utilizing a $15M allocation.”
The WSC will be seeking an additional $13M, including $8M of sewerage works namely a new tertiary level wastewater treatment plant for Treasure Cay and $3.6M of distribution systems, restoration and improvement works. Mr. Gibson acknowledged the IDB for its support and thanked partners including UNICEF, Samaritan’s Purse, Water Missions, and IsrealAid, International Red Cross, other international, regional, and local non-governmental organizations and The Bahamas for counterpart funding.
Moreover, the Executive Chairman highlighted a Solarization Project in Marsh Harbour, a partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund and WaterMission for the design and construction of a 120 kilowatt solar field for the wellfields and a 216 kilowatt solar field for the pumping station.
He said works on both solar fields are progressing well despite challenges post Hurricane Dorian and the impact of COVID-19. It is projected that the wellfields solar field will be commissioned later this year and the pumping station solar field will be commissioned sometime later. Among the lessons learned:
Backup storage tanks, chlorine reserves and other consumables are critical
Communication is critical (local, national and international) satellite phones as
Constantly improve, capacity building and drills
Educate and train staff and public constantly
Modernization/build back-up capacity – build back stronger
Logistics – damage resulted in significant logistical challenges due to extensive damage to rental housing and hotels. Limited power, heavy equipment and trucking services due to extensive damage and many weeks of material and building supplies backed up. The way forward – hurricane planning is super important; ensuring generators are filled, etc.
Partnerships are critical