The East Demerara Water Conservancy Board has been underfunded for decades
Stabroek News
November 17, 2001

Dear Editor,

Some years ago a VIP on an emergency visit to the GPL (then GEC) Kingston Power Station, which had to be shut down at the time, was led to believe that the cause of the problem was a defective conductivity meter. This meter measures the level of salts in the incoming city water supply. The city supply has to be specially purified to feed the boilers.

The VIP was heard to have said that for a few dollars this problem could have been avoided if that meter was operational. True, but what was the real fundamental reason for the shut down? The fact was that the boilers had an excessive leakage of steam, and were in dire need of repair. The plant had to be shut down because the incoming water from the City Mains had a high degree of salt content, which originated from the Lamaha Canal due to the drought which was on at the time.

The demineralisation plant at Kingston Power Station just could not purify enough high quality water to feed the leaky boilers because of the high salt content of the input supply during the drought. Hence the boilers had to be shut down and also the generators. The problem was solved by running a dedicated water line from the nearby Kingston Well to feed the Kingston Power Station, but the fundamental reasons for the shut down are still to be addressed.

I use this as an illustration because once again a VIP has been led to believe that the problem at Cane Grove where the dam burst recently is because of some recent work done to the dam by a contractor. I seek not to defend the contractor, since he will have to plot his own defence when the enquiry begins, but why are we looking to pillory someone, when the fundamental problem has not been addressed? (If the contractor was not at hand, I wonder which agency would have been able to seal the breach in so short a time?).

The fact is that the East Demerara Water Conservancy Board under whose aegis the conservancy falls has been underfunded for decades. All the major items of machinery necessary to keep the conservancy liquid have fallen into disuse and disrepair. Essential waterways such as the Annandale Water Path, the Lamaha Extension Canal and the Shanks Canal are all weeded up or silted up. Creeks such as the Laluni, Grassy, Lama, Lamaha, Anira and Courabana are now only lines on an old map.

In fact a Dutch hydrologist who lectured at UG some years ago and did a study on the EDWC, wrote that at the present rate of overgrowth, in 30 years there would be no conservancy.

The short-term solution has been to try to make up for lost capacity by raising the level of the retaining dams so that the overgrown conservancy can still hold enough water to service its customers. Thus the dam may now be more susceptible to tragedies such as at Cane Grove.

The EDWC which is nearly half the size of Demerara was empoldered over 100 years ago by the contribution of slaves from each estate, and supplies water to the Demerara Sugar Estates, small farmers and a diminishing portion of the city's needs, as wells take over. It is therefore no easy task to clean up the conservancy, but let us tackle the fundamental problems.

Yours faithfully,

David H.J. Dewar