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We deal in water not waste! - Cash-strapped NWC forced to find millions to treat raw sewage

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM

It is costing the cash-strapped National Water Commission (NWC) millions of dollars annually to treat raw sewage (spetage) from companies and private households across the island, a task which falls outside of the entity's mandate.

"In other municipalities, pre-treatment is a requirement for the industry that generates the waste, or whoever is the service provider who is interfacing directly with the householders," argued Charles Buchanan,

communications manager at the NWC.

"But the pre-treatment should be before impacting with the central sewage system and, in those instances, the responsibility for pre-treatment and the cost related to pre-treatment is borne by others and not the central sewage-service provider.

"In our case, because of the absence of those facilities, the NWC is left in a position where it is pressed into doing this, and there are other issues which contribute to it not working well, apart from cost."

The NWC is responsible for handling sewage collection in areas where it has collection systems, but the collection of septage, which is the waste or sewage in a septic tank, is not.

But with the absence of any other entity to treat the waste drawn from cesspool pits and industrial waste, the entity has been forced to find millions to undertake the process.

"It is a challenge for us, there is no doubt. It creates significant problems for us in a number of different ways," said Buchanan.

"Especially over recent years, the Commission has been spending significant sums, in some instances, more than 30 per cent of its capital budget, in the rehabilitation and expansion of its sewerage infrastructure to better serve the public, protect public health, support economic growth, and preserve the





According to Buchanan, the NWC takes on this costly exercise out of critical public-health and environmental concerns in the absence of a septage collection entity.

"In fact, in many municipalities worldwide, septage collection and treatment is done by an entirely different entity from the water- and sewerage-service provider. If companies and householders with pits were mandated by law to pre-treat their septage, it would make the work of the commission significantly easier and enable the achievement of several critical targets, as the substances being introduced into our systems would be within acceptable standards," according to Buchanan.

The NWC is expected to record a loss of just under $5 billion this fiscal year, but projects to reduce that to $2.3 billion for next year.

The State entity is hoping

to introduce a 'Polluter-Pay Policy' where those who generate waste, a contaminant or a polluting product or by-product would be required to pay for whatever is required to be done to mitigate or eliminate the risk of that pollutant.