Unscrupulous private contractors providing a truck borne supply to consumers have fleeced communities and consumers tens of thousands of dollars in the past years, as they charge exorbitant fees for the precious commodity.
Condemning their action, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales has vowed to bring an end to this unsavoury business practice.
Following a meeting on Monday with residents of Lady Chancellor, Port-of-Spain, who had not received a pipe-borne supply since last September, Gonzales told Guardian Media about the illegal and unsafe actions of some private trucks which included siphoning water from rivers and extraction of saltwater from fire hydrants.
Speaking in the company of WASA’s North/West area manager Maxwell Malachy and Head of North operations Gleason Gurusarsingh, Gonzales heard earfuls from the affected residents.
They complained that the community’s booster station malfunctioned, leaking pipelines were not repaired and a not a drop of water had flowed through the 600,000-gallon water storage tank in seven years, which they tolerated.
But when they had not seen water in their taps in four months, they sought Gonzales’ intervention who instructed a WASA crew to deal with their issues.
In less than a week, the residents’ supply was restored.
“It cannot be that you required the intervention of the Public Utilities Minister for people to get water. This is not my role and responsibility. So, if managers are not managing, then the minister may have to overreach in some instances to make sure people get water,” Gonzales told the residents.
Her voice breaking as she spoke, one resident said from the minute they awake in the morning WASA is on their minds.
For years, the residents have been writing WASA about their plight but received no action.
The unavailability led them to conserve and rain harvest water.
Resident Barbara Jardine said 16 apartments were allowed two truckloads totalling 4,800 gallons every five days.
Living on the hill for decades, resident Joe Esau said they should not be suffering for water which is sourced from the nearby savannah aquifer.
“We must be among the lowest per capita consumers of water in the country.”
Gonzales said he hates the concept of a truck borne supply.
“Let’s not talk about truck borne. Let us fix the problems.”
He described as “absurd and ridiculous” that the community’s storage tank fell in disuse so long.
As Gonzales kept his fingers crossed for the water problems not to recur, Esau said he could not live with such optimism.
“Minister, it would go back. We have been here before. Every time it is fixed it has not been sustained…something always goes wrong and we are back to where we started,” Esau insisted.
Like Gonzales, Esau agreed that WASA lacked “coordinated leadership.”
Esau drew to Gonzales’ attention that for decades he has been paying the authority under $300 every quarter for water.
The rates, he said, have not changed.
He felt they should be paying more but noted that the Government was in a difficult situation.
One resident admitted to paying between $800 and $1,000 for 2,000 gallons of water from private trucks.
The resident explained if a WASA customer (who is not in arrears) calls the authority for a truck borne supply you are given a reference number.
“A WASA truck is supposed to deliver water within three to five days. If on the fifth day you receive no water you would have to go through the entire process again by calling WASA to get a fresh reference number which is frustrating to say the least.”
By then, the resident said, desperation sets in and you have no choice but to pay a private truck for water.
The resident said he paid the private trucks thousands of dollars.
Questioned by Guardian Media about the private water trucks, Gonzales said “you have a number of trucks, private operators that are illegally operating and illegally charging people for water. That has become very prevalent because of the water crisis in the country.”
Questioned where the trucks source the water from, Gonzales said it could be anywhere, including rivers.
“The community has no way of assessing if the water is treated and safe for consumption. That is why it is not advisable for people to purchase water from private contractors.”
Gonzales said some of the trucks illegally abstract water from hydrants, which is an offence.
“So the water is not purchased from WASA.”
Only Fire Services and WASA are authorised to open a fire hydrant for water, Gonzales said.
He said these are some of the challenges WASA has been facing.
“It is causing all sorts of illegal activities. A lot of people because of desperate circumstances resort to water where water is available.”
To fix these issues, Gonzales said WASA has to get its house in order.
Gonzales said the unreliability of water has spawned a different industry.
“Unfortunately, people have to resort to paying illegally for water services and to avoid these things from happening we have to ensure that WASA performs at a satisfactory level.”
He said people all over the country are required to pay for water.
Gonzales also urged consumers to inform WASA if any of its contracted trucks charge them for water which is supposed to be delivered free to paying customers.
He said WASA pays millions of dollars every year in water trucking services.