Water woes grip Coral Gardens
Karrie Williams, Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU:Faced with constant water lock-offs lasting several days at a time, residents of Coral Gardens in St James say they are in utter distress and are blaming the National Water Commission (NWC) for neglect.
According to residents, in the most recent lock-off episode, the community was left without water for six consecutive days, without any warning from the NWC or any assistance with obtaining the precious commodity.
One resident, Carolyn Henry, who has lived in the community for more than 10 years, told Western Focus that the frequent lock-offs have been ongoing for the last five years, without due notice or explanation from the NWC. Henry, who has a young daughter attending school, said residents were suffering from a lack of water for bathing or cooking.
"Water is an essential service, so it's a very depressing time for us right now. We feel abandoned by the NWC and we are demanding a reliable water system as we are paying customers," she told Western Focus. "If, for any reason, the water must go, the NWC must give us prior warning so that we can at least prepare ourselves."
Merline Duhaney, president of the Coral Gardens Citizens' Association, said the problem has been long-standing.
"This has been going on for a while, and everytime you call the water commission, they say it's either the Martha Brae or the Great River plant. Something isn't working ... . In the meantime, nobody sends water out.
"Currently, nobody is coping; everybody is calling, and for those who have a tank, their water is now finished. The tanks are all empty," she lamented.
When Western Focus contacted the NWC's acting community relations manager, Teisha-ann Pinnock, on Monday morning, she said Coral Gardens was supplied with water from the Martha Brae Treatment Plant via a pumping station located in the community. She said both plants were having electro-mechanical issues, which resulted in the ongoing disruptions to the community's regular water supply.
"What I can say is that we have been conducting continuous improvement at the Martha Brae Treatment Plant, so over the last couple of months, we have been shutting down at least once or twice per week to facilitate the improvement work that is being done at the facility," Pinnock said.
"Because of that shortfall in the volume of water, persons in Coral Gardens and Torado Heights and, of course, sections of Ironshore, which are served by that facility, will experience an interruption in their water supply," she added.
Pinnock also expressed surprise at complaints made by residents that the communication from the NWC was poor. She said the utility company maintained good communication with the community, particularly with Duhaney.
"I spoke to her (Duhaney) even yesterday (Sunday) regarding the issue at the Coral Gardens facility, so it's not a situation that when these incidents occur, it's in isolation and we don't try to inform customers," she said.
However, when contacted, Duhaney said she had been off the island on Sunday and further denied that there was ever any communication between herself and Pinnock up to that time regarding the community's most recent water lock-off.
"I spoke to them (NWC) this morning (Tuesday), and what I said to them is Ironshore, Coral Gardens and Torado Heights are one community, so how is it some streets have water and some don't," said the citizens' association president.
When contacted, councillor of the Rose Hall division of the St James Parish Council, Charles Sinclair, also complained about what he said was the utility company's poor communication strategies and lack of proper customer service. He also said he has been in constant dialogue with senior representatives from the NWC about the community's long-standing water woes.
"The water concern with the NWC is that even when they know that these things are arising, such as (that) they might have to take out a pump, they don't communicate effectively to residents so persons can make alternative arrangements," Sinclair said.
"The NWC does not communicate these issues. Persons just suddenly realise that they are out of water, and I think it reflects poorly on the manner in which the water commission operates, and their poor customer service," he said.