Statement By Minister For Communications And Works
Honourable Kye M. Rymer At The Fifth Sitting Of The First Session Of The Fifth House Of Assembly Of The Virgin Islands On Water
Tuesday 31st October 2023
Madam Speaker, Water is an essential part of everyone’s life. It affects and impacts every single resident of the Virgin Islands. Therefore, I feel compelled to make a statement today regarding the water challenges we’ve been facing in the territory, specifically the production and distribution of desalinated water. It is my duty as the Minister responsible for water to ensure that the public has an adequate and consistent supply. It is undeniable that there have been some challenges, Madam Speaker. However, I can assure you that I am on the job to remedy this.
Recently, the complaints about the inadequacy of the water supply in the Virgin Islands have been extremely louder than they have been in previous years. There isn’t a day that passes where my team or I are void of answering questions or address concerns regarding this territorial plight. Madam Speaker, I am very aware of the public’s frustration, and I am also confident that this Government will bring an end to this dilemma. This is not an easy fix, as the issues are long-standing ones, so as we have been doing, we ask for the public’s continued patience as we navigate towards implementing long-term solutions.
I am aware that the sister islands are even more affected because they cater disproportionately to the tourist population, particularly on Virgin Gorda. I have heard the complaints. I can assure you that my team and I are using all the resources we possibly can, to bring about a swift resolution. As you know, I met with the people of Virgin Gorda on the 10th of October to listen to their woes, and we are already enacting solutions.
Madam Speaker, I have been asked several questions by my colleagues about the Territory's water woes during this Sitting and the plans I will be putting in place to bring about an effective resolution to these issues. In advance of answering those questions, I can say that I provided details about increasing the capacity in some instances, the leak detection plans afoot, the constant breakage of pipes and loss of water on the public roadways, theft, the need for meters, the interphase with electricity challenges and many more details. Nonetheless, Madam Speaker, I would like to address a public misconception. There is a misconception that the Government is obligated to pay Seven Seas, the company that bought the plant from BiWater in 2015, for Two point Three Million (2.3M) gallons of water daily, whether the Government takes the water or not. In an effort to debunk the idea that we are paying for water that we do not receive, it is important to note that this contract has three payment cost components: There is a capacity charge, a consumption charge and electricity charge. The capacity charge covers the cost to just be able to operate and maintain the water desalination plant. The capacity, in this case, is at a base flow of Two point Three (2.3M) million gallons of water per day. This means the plant is constructed with the ability to produce a minimum of Two point Three (2.3M) million gallons of water per day. The consumption charge covers what we actually take from the plant and is monitored by monthly meter readings. Therefore, Madam Speaker, in addition to the capacity charge to maintain the Plant to produce the Two point Three Million (2.3M) gallons daily, the Government then pays for the water it receives. The electricity charge is also paid by the government.
It is also clear that we need a comprehensive review of the infrastructure for water distribution in the Territory, and we are working toward a consultancy to address getting a situation report. We can only effectively know where we are going if we know where we are now. Unfortunately, since the signing of this Water Purchase Agreement, from 2010 onward to 2019, minuscule investments have been made to the water distribution network. So like anything, without maintenance, at some point it will fail, and we are now at that reality. Madam Speaker, I am sure there has been instances where you have seen water freely running in the streets and on the side of the roads while customers sit by hoping to get a drip of water through their faucets. In some cases, this may be a result of unavoidable accidents, however, in most of the cases, this was as a result of the failing infrastructure that needs an urgent upgrade. In most cases, the pipes are old, undersized and in areas where they are vulnerable to vehicular impact. So, although I have an expert and responsive team in the community managed by my hard-working Water and Sewage Department personnel and supported by my Ministry’s team, the reality is all we are doing is putting Band-Aids on the sores until we complete a full assessment, diagnosis and rehabilitation of the entire water infrastructure.
I expect the fix will be a costly one, but it is a medicine we must be prepared to willingly swallow if the patient has any hope of getting well. Hence, I am hoping that I will have the support of every member of this Honorable House when the time comes to agree on the allocation of the funding that will be required to address these concerns.
Madam Speaker, as some have said, money answers all things. Even now, The Government spends a huge sum of money on water production, storage and distribution. I will not hide it: this Water Purchase Agreement is highly favourable to the contractor. We pay Seven Seas for the possibility of producing up to Two point Three (2.3M) million gallons of water daily, which is shy of One million dollars ($1M) per month, and then we pay them the going rate for the water they actually produce and sell to us, plus we have to pay BVIEC for the electricity to the plant.
Madam Speaker, there are times when I wish I was there to negotiate this contract, for I can assure you that I would have had greater consideration for the taxpayers of this Territory. Needless to say, it is done, and I must work with the hand that was dealt.
Madam Speaker, despite the difficulties and despite having one hand tied behind my back, I was placed here to fight, and I will fight my very best for the people of this Territory to have a consistent and reliable supply of potable water.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.