Islanders frustration – No rain no water we die.

Dry gut water bore hole
Water discovery at Dry gut

Over the past few months the Islands water supply has diminished allot due to the fact that there hasn’t been any substantial rainfall. It appears ludicrous to have a very serious fresh water shortage for a population of just four thousand people living on St Helena. Unfortunately this is the reality and residents have barely enough to drink. The Island is only 47 sq miles and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. But this is not all, it is said to be one of the oldest land masses on earth and have been rained on for millions of years. You don’t need a degree to understand that surely some of that rain water is stored somewhere in the deep aquifers of the Island ready to be tapped, most of it is running out to sea.

Harpers Earth Dam
Harpers earth dam

Basil Read put their faith in one Saint Helenian who knew this and tapped that same source of underground water to supply water for the construction of the airport, just as well as we would still be wondering where we would get the water from to build the Airport. It was no way that the islands potable water supply would have sustained the volumes of water required for the construction of the airport. It was absurd for the water consultant to even suggest that it would.

St Helena has faced domestic water shortages for decades dating back to the 1800’s. Nowadays if you speak to anyone who has lived on St Helena they can all relate to a water shortage at some time or the other.

In a nutshell the development of the Island over the years has outgrown the historic water system and the sewerage system and the Government has been slow to react. St Helena depends solely on rainfall every year to top up its springs which supplies the Islands domestic water supply. Most of these springs originate high up on the mountains and only has a limited supply in the summer months. Historically in the drier months the centuries old records show that the incoming flows are always lower than the consumption.

The process for delivering domestic water to residents on St Helena is very simple. Water is collected from natural water springs and runoffs and stored in reservoirs. The water is then treated and distributed to the population as a potable water supply. The rainfall replenished the springs.

No rain no water.

The Connect Company now headed up by Barry Hubbard a UK expat engineer on Island who was the former manager of the then government’s electrical department

Water discovery at Dry gut
Water discovery at Dry gut

manages that water system. Recently a new reservoir and water mains have been implemented but the fundamentals are the same, the supply relies very much on the rain, no rain no water we die. Is the government doing anything one may ask, I suppose so, having resilience meetings speaking about it probably, but nothing is coming out in the public to let us know what their plans are if the current situations prevailed. The Island has seen a new reservoir recently been built just in case it rains.  However, same fundamental, no rain no water we die. Nothing is coming out of Connect and the Governments resilience meetings except pointless advert saying we are short of water, we know that but what you are really doing about it, so as usual everyone is left to speculate!

A few questions are been asked from the residents of St Helena who incidentally are hoping for a commercial operational airport in the next few months despite not having enough water to drink.

  • Will the authorities divert the RMS to the nearest port to collect freshwater when we finally run out?
  • Will they bring in as an emergency desalination plant?
  • Will they simply tie up the RMS in Ruperts and use it to manufacture desalinated water for the island?
  • Will they pump water from the existing boreholes? Perhaps they are forced to do this now.

It has been mention that they (The Authorities) didn’t want it because it was brackish, a decision the government and the service provider must be regretting now.

  • Will they bring in a proper borehole drill and drill more boreholes close to existing catchment areas just like Basil Read did?
Old water tanks
Old style water storage tanks at Lower Half Tree Hollow.

Probably not they would bring in a consultant hydrologist instead and make more reports to be shelved while we die of thirst. A frustrated Islander said “I don’t think the government realises the seriousness of the situation, drastic situations require measures, and a decision made”  Only one saint who we all know did this and found water for the airport project when there was none. Dry Gut springs to mind. Drastic situations require drastic measures but it all worked out well in the end as I believe SHG is currently using that water now. Respect to the person who found this source of water, I wonder if the Government will tell us how much they are currently bowsering from it to save lives. It was said at the end of the airport project  Basil Read offered this water to Connect St Helena and the government, they refused it  on the grounds it was unfit. When no natural water falls from the skies, a good source of brackish water is ideal and can be treated to make potable water as an offset water supply in drought conditions.

Connect St Helena who manages the Islands utility services has urged residence to reduce water consumption immediately as the amount of water collected is less than 80 percent of that been used. Over the past few weeks water has been transported the old fashion way around the Island by using water trucks (bowsers). The bowsers are filling mostly from Jamestown and the borehole water point in Dry Gut and taken to HTH and Longwood. During this period both HTH and Longwood areas are deficient in water supplies, maybe Levelwood as well. Perhaps the Levelwood consumption rates have shot up due to the house building development there. More people appear to be choosing level wood to build their homes. Last week the water supply had to be completely shut off in the level wood area as the reservoir feeding the level wood area had become contaminated. An investigation is in progress to identify the cause of the contamination this situation has not help the water shortage situation.

Over the years the government secured funding and made several attempts to overcome drought periods by implementing several solutions to manage domestic water storage and distribution. In hindsight this apparently did nothing for our current situation. Residence lives depend on the next decision the government has to make and that is to rectify this problem once for all and quickly. One would hate to be in the officials’ shoes that have the responsibility for our very existence over the coming months if rain doesn’t come. Will the powers to be instruct the service provider to make more boreholes or desalinate seawater before it is too late?

Dry gut water bore hole
Water discovery at Dry Gut

It was also noted by another Islander who was contacted about the water situation he said no decision will be made as most decision makers/officials are leaving on overseas leave soon, so the situation will remain the same. The same frustrated Islander said the Government should stop dancing around and put some serious people and funds into extracting ground water or desalination processes to offset the dry periods. Desalinating seawater is easy as the island is surrounded by the unlimited supply. For just 4000 people in the dry period this would be a piece of cake. Desalination need not be expensive, you can use renewable energies to desalinate small volumes of water as every little helps. St Helena is ideal for renewable energy, lots of wind, lots of water, seawater that is, for hydro pumping and electricity generation and lots of sun and humidity for solar powered energy. The Islanders can’t afford to import water tanks to help our reliance on the island water supply as the cost of freight and customs duties prohibits this. Connect St Helena has also said that that there is a possibility that further restrictions will have to be put in place to help overcome the situation if consumption is not reduced. Why not tell us more on what they are doing to address the out of water situation, which is eminent if the anticipated rain doesn’t come yet?

The consumption of water could also increase as the festive season draws near which means more people visiting the Island and more increases in water consumption, even if you drink bottled water you still need to go to the toilet sometime to flush it away.

Did you know that water delivered to the domestic tap is charged at 97 pence a cubic metre?

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