Water consultant Graham Doig will return to St Helena in early July 2013 – but his main job will not involve tackling the island’s severe shortage of supplies.
St Helena Government has revealed details of his visit in response to a report that the island does have enough water, despite the current drought – but not necessarily where it’s needed.
His prime tasks are to prepare the island’s treatment works for upgrading. His visit is part of a programme that also includes ending the supply of untreated water to some homes.
The Castle said: “Graham Doig of Fairhurst is next coming to St Helena on 3 July 2013. He will ensure that essential works are carried out to the four water treatment works in advance of the refurbishment contractor arriving on island in September.
“The water infrastructure project includes for the supply of treated water to all communities.
“There is an infrastructure programme that includes water projects. It is a rolling programme spread over several years.
“The issue of water not being where it is needed is being addressed by looking holistically at the problem.
“One solution is to drill deep boreholes, but with the volcanic origins of the island it is difficult to predict where underground water might be found. There have been successes in this approach but a final decision has not been taken.
“We are in the information-gathering phase at the moment and once sufficient information has been gathered, the Water Resource Plan will be finalised and agreed with St Helena Government.
“The current plan is to supply Sandy Bay from the refurbished Levelwood water treatment works.
“The Woody Ridge area will be supplied from a refurbished Hutt’s Gate water treatment works.
“Plans are not yet finalised for supplying treated water to the Blue Hill distribution area.”
Graham may or may not have the gift of making water run uphill, but he’s a top performer when it comes to running uphill himself. In January 2013, he set a new record for ascending the 699 brutal steps of Jacob’s Ladder. Sadly, he will arrive on the island just too late to take part in the 2013 St Helena Festival of Running.
Drought-stricken St Helena is not short of water, the island government’s consultant has insisted – despite homes on the island being close to losing their supply.
UK expert Ed Connon said: “There is enough water on the island – but it’s not necessarily in the right places.”
A major operation to move water to the most populated part of the island has been under way in June 2013, with Saints urged to cut consumption drastically to avoid running out.
The crisis has come only 11 months after St Helena Government declared that the island had “sufficient existing water sources to meet demand for the next ten years.”
Now Martin Squibbs, the man quoted in the government press release of 4 July 2012, has resorted to importing water from Ascension Island to avoid cutting off the supply to taps in Half Tree Hollow and nearby areas.
But water has been flowing freely through Jamestown and even overspilling from a reservoir at Levelwood – while reservoirs in Harper’s Valley have been emptied.
In the 2012 press statement – on efforts to drill new boreholes to meet post-airport demand – Martin said:
“A water consultant from Fairhurst was appointed in September 2010 and one of his first tasks was to carry out a water resources study and produce a water resources plan covering the next 20 years.
“The study concluded that there are sufficient existing water sources to meet demand for the next ten years or so, but there is a need to identify new sources to enhance the current sources supplying the Redhill and Hutts Gate water treatment works.”
But on Monday 3 June 2013, Martin said the island could never fully protect against an “Act of God” such as a severe drought. He compared the island’s crisis with major flooding in central Europe that authorities could not prevent.
Saint FM has reported that the island had seen two other droughts within 20 years, with water supplies to Longwood being cut off in 2006.
Mr Connon, the Fairhurst technical director behind the St Helena report, said: “I am quite happy with the statements we have made.
“As Martin has said, it’s about the amount of rainfall, or lack of it. It is an unusually low amount of rainfall that you have had.
“We will be looking further into the recent drought in terms of looking at the rainfall figures and seeing how that affects the overall water resource position. You get a bit more data and it informs your position a bit better.
“There has been a lot of investigation and a lot of boreholes being drilled.”
He said a colleague from Fairhurst would be arriving on the island shortly to oversee an upgrade to all the water treatment works on the island.
The drought has highlighted the fact that ten per cent of homes on the island, in Blue Hill and Sandy Bay, still receive untreated water – with the risk of it becoming contaminated at any time.
In another statement issued in July 2012, the government said bringing all the island’s domestic water supply up to World Health Organisation standards – meaning it must be treated – was “a priority”.
Mr Connon said: “One of the directions we were given was to deal with the untreated water supply.”
But he added: “Having spoken to some of the residents out there, they don’t want their water treated.”
Fairhurst says its water division “delivers reliable and cost-effective advice in specific areas such as… dams and reservoirs, water supply, sewerage, and waste water treatment.”
It was hired to advise on two projects. The first was a management shake-up that led to the newly created Connect St Helena taking over responsibility for the water supply, less than two months before the crisis broke.
“The second comprises a programme of water infrastructure improvements to meet the immediate needs of existing users and provide a sound basis for further upgrading works,” says the company’s Capability Statement.
“Fairhurst was appointed to assist the St Helena Government in all aspects of the sustainable water management project,” it says. “Key tasks include the assessment of
natural water resources and their capacity to meet the longer term demands from population growth and tourism.
“We are also advising on the development of a 20‐year asset upgrade plan and will design a package of improvement works to provide a consistent and high quality drinking water supply throughout the island.”
The Fairhurst report has not been made public by St Helena Government.
Fairhurst was also paid £6 million to design and install the successful “hairnet” that stops rocks rolling down on to Jamestown’s wharf, with more than 100,000 square metres of steel netting. The company website reports that the project was named International Project of the Year at the Ground Engineering (GE) Awards 2010.