PUC issues order to BWSL and CWBL

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

BWSL & CWBL ordered to comply with order so as to provide adequate & quality water supply to Ambergris Caye.

On Friday, July 28th the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), at a press conference held at the SunBreeze Conference Room in San Pedro, presented an order in response to a complaint made by the San Pedro Business Association (SPBA) against Belize Water Services Ltd. (BWSL) and Consolidated Water Belize Ltd. (CWBL).

The problems commenced from early 2010 when the Easter week found many resorts and private residence with little to no water. On Friday, April 9, 2010 in light of the water issues, BWSL broke the silence when they held a press conference, once again, at the SunBreeze conference room. To discuss the issue was Mr. Alvan Haynes, Chief Executive Officer of BWSL who explained that BWSL is in the business of selling water but unfortunately since not much water was being made available to them by the producing company CWBL; BWSL had no alternative but to ration the water during the Easter holidays.

“Consolidated Water Belize Ltd. was not able to produce the capacity to meet the demand of the Easter vacation. And that is simply because there is a peak in demand over Easter due to the influx of visitors. Essentially they are having a problem at the plant where they cannot meet the normal capacity because their membranes are being fouled […] It was at 10 feet out of a possible 42 feet of water stored so at that point we were informed of the situation. We have since been in touch with them, they have changed membranes twice and they are saying that they can’t get the membranes clean. […] so it’s a serious concern for them because of the cost and it’s a serious concern for us because we need to make sure we have adequate production to continue meeting the daily demand in San Pedro. […]”

During this initial meeting reasons for the problem were discussed and the development, which is still underway in the area west of CWSL, was cited as a possible cause for the problems with the membranes. Mr. Haynes went on to explain that CWSL had submitted water samples and their membranes to laboratories in the United States in an effort to find out where the problem lay. During that meeting, Mr. Haynes stated that in the interim, BWSL had requested from the Department of Environment (DOE) that any development in that area be halted until the results were completed. At the time The San Pedro Sun spoke with Mr. Jevon Hulse from the DOE who informed us that no such formal request had been submitted although there had been discussions in its regards.

The problem persisted and on September 10, 2010 the SPBA filed a complaint to the PUC in respect to the quality and security of the supply of potable water to the public on Ambergris Caye by BWSL and CWBL. This complaint was based on the perceived deterioration of the quality of water supply to the public on Ambergris Caye, and observance of an obvious decline in the available treated water stored by CWBL at its storage facility.

Chairman of the PUC, Mr. John Avery, along with Commissioner Ernesto Gomez and Director of Water and Waste Water Mr. Rudolph Williams were present to issue an ORDER made by the PUC cited as the San Pedro Public Water Supply Quality and Security Complaint Order.

Both parties involved were given the opportunity to issue a formal response to the complaint submitted. A response was issued, however not to the satisfaction of the PUC.

Investigations by the commission led to the following discoveries:
a) BWS had consistently failed to meet the quality standards set by the Ministry of Health for supply of potable water to the public on Ambergris Caye;
b) CWBL had consistently failed to meet the quality standards set by the agreement for supply of treated water to BWS;
c) The water quality standards included in the agreement between BWS and CWBL are similar to those set by the Ministry of Health for supply of potable water to the public on Ambergris Caye and therefore are not necessarily the optimal standards for supply to BWS;
d) There is not enough evidence to conclude that any third party is responsible for substandard quality of water supply from CWBL or any deterioration of such supply
e) Deterioration of water supply by CWBL to BWS coincided with a substantial reduction in the frequency of the replacement of membranes at the CWBL treatment facility.
Chairman Avery informed those present that in some instances there was grave concern that the quality of water being supplied to the public was of a much lower quality than what was expected.

As a result of this and other findings from the investigations carried out by the PUC the following order was issued. The order, which under the laws of Belize becomes legally binding, states:
a) The quality of water supplied to the public on Ambergris Caye shall be governed by the values of the quality parameters included in the Schedule (Ministry of Health Drinking Water Quality standard – graphic below).

 

b) BWSL and CWBL shall maintain their respective facilities in such condition as to enable the provision of service to the public in all respects which is safe, adequate, efficient and reasonable and shall make all such repairs, changes, alterations, substitutions, extensions and improvements in or to such service as shall be necessary or proper for the accommodation and convenience of the public and for compliance to this order
c) Within one hundred and twenty (120) days of the making of this order, BWSL and CWBL shall jointly make a submission to the Minister responsible, requesting that the area including and immediately surrounding the lagoon next to the CWBL water treatment facility, which serves as a source of untreated water for the extraction wells for the CWBL water treatment facility, be retained as a forest reserve or national park, as the case may be, pursuant to Section 27 of the Water Industry Act or pursuant to any other relevant Act that may exist at such time, and to be declared a Controlled Area under Section 58 of the Water Industry Act or pursuant to any other relevant Act that may exist at such time;
d) The submission required to be made under (c) shall include such requests of the Ministry responsible to do such things as are necessary pursuant to Section 28 and Section 29 of Water Industry Actor pursuant to any other relevant Act that may exist at such time, and shall include such recommendations as to the type of activities to be allowed, restricted or disallowed within the area included in the submission;
e) Within ninety (90) days of the making of this Order, BWSL and CWBL shall jointly submit to the Commission for its approval, a plan of action designed to protect the lagoon and area described in (c) from any detriment likely to be caused due to natural or human activity in or around the said lagoon and area;
f) Within ninety (90) days of the making of this Order, CWBL shall submit to the Commission for its approval, an Operation Manual governing the operation of its facilities that include procedures for the installation, maintenance and replacement of membranes and such other activities required for safe, adequate and efficient operation of the said facilities;
g) Within ninety (90) days of the making of this Order, BWSL and CWBL shall jointly submit to the Commission for its approval, a renegotiated and revised agreement for the supply of water, which shall:
(i) Include values for the quality parameters included in the Schedule that are designed to ensure that the quality of water supplied to the public on Ambergris Caye adheres to the values for the quality parameters included in the Schedule;
(ii) Where the existing agreement for the supply of water includes values for quality parameters included in the Schedule that are of a more stringent standard than those values in the Schedule, the values contained in the existing agreement shall be the valued in any renegotiated and revised agreement;
(iii) Provide for CWBL to be the exclusive supplier of water to BWSL up to a maximum average of 450,000 US gallons per day.
(iv) Include the formula for tariffs, rates, fees and charges included in the existing water supply contract, such formula to remain effective until such other formula for tariffs, rates fees and charges or such other tariffs, rates fees and charges are prescribed or determined by the Commission under any relevant Byelaws governing the determination of tariffs, rates, fees and charges;
(v) Adhere to all relevant laws or Acts.

* BWSL and CWBL shall comply with any and all written instructions from the Commission in regards to their rights and obligations under this Order.

* CWBL shall, subject to any Operation Manual approved by the Commission pursuant to Section 2 (f) of this Order, maintain a minimum stock of twenty – four (24) unused membranes of a type and construction adequate for operation of CWBL’s water treatment facility.

* CWBL shall:

** Receive from the Commission sixty (60) membranes procured by the Commission as insurance against the disruption of water supply to the public of Ambergris Caye and shall reimburse the Commission for all reasonable costs associated with the procurement of the said membranes by the commission;

** Immediately upon receipt, install as much of the membranes referred to in (i) as is required to ensure a supply of water adequate to satisfy the values for quality parameters included in the existing water supply contract between BWSL and CWBL
The Order came into effect on July 29, 2011.

Present to receive the order were Mr. Herman Longsworth, Chairman of BWSL and Mr. Dee Dillon, General Manager of CWBL as of June 2011. Mr. Longsworth informed the gathering that as of recent, BWSL acquired one hundred and forty four acres of land in the immediate area surrounding the plant in an effort to protect the area. According to Mr. Avery, it is necessary that both parties adhere to the order and comply in full in order to ensure that a similar problem does not occur in the future.

As a result, Rebecca Arceo, chairperson for the SPBA issued the following statement to The San Pedro Sun in regards to the Order by the PUC to the CWBL and BWSL: “The SPBA would like to applaud the PUC for taking action in regards to our complaint. We feel that the above order will help ensure that businesses and residents of San Pedro will have an adequate supply of potable water. We believe that had this order not been given, the consequences to the residents and businesses of San Pedro would have been disastrous. The health and economy would have been gravely damaged. The SPBA intends on following the progress and enforcement of this order.

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