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Expert says St Helena has ‘enough water’ – in the wrong place

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Rains have brought respite on St Helena. Picture: Neil George
Rains have brought respite on St Helena. Picture: Neil George

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. 

Click the pic to see full drought coverage
Click the pic to see full drought coverage

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.

Click here to see a gallery of drought pictures

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.

An improvised water carrier is put to work. Picture: Neil George
An improvised water carrier is put to work. Picture: Neil George

“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.

Pumping water at Scott's Mill. Picture: Neil George
Pumping water at Scott’s Mill. Picture: Neil George

“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”.

Fire crews have helped carry water to Scott's Mill reservoir. Picture: Neil George
Fire crews have helped carry water to Scott’s Mill reservoir. Picture: Neil George

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.

Drought – full coverage
Island can never fully protect against drought, says Peter

St Helena Government press release on water drilling, 4 July 2013
Fairhust Water Capability statement
St Helena rockfall protect – Fairhurst website

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