Last week Solomon Water was again forced to turn off its Kongulai Pump Station which supplies about 40% of its customers in Honiara causing many Honiara residences to be without water for more than 48 hours. The shutdown was due to the high turbidity (silt and dirt particles in the water) experienced upstream at Kongulai water source following rain.
Solomon Water Chief Executive Officer Mr Ian Gooden said “the action was necessary to ensure that quality and safe water is distributed to the customers. The reason for the shutdown during wet weather is we have to wait until water is safe for distribution. If we kept on producing water the disinfection process cannot kill any bacteria in the water, making it potentially unsafe and pose health risk to customers. It will also clog the pipes and customers facilities.”
Ian Gooden added “the key underlying cause of increase high turbidity are the illegal or unmanaged logging activities upstream in the Kongulai catchment water area. This is a big challenge for us as we are a victim of these activities but we have a responsibility to provide safe and healthy water to our customers”.
There is an illegal logging activity in the designated water catchment area of Kongulai that has been issued with stop work notices, and another licenced activity in the Kohve catchment that has been stopped due to not working in accordance with its licence and causing environmental damage and excessive sediment. Solomon Water is working with the ministries of Environment, Mines and Energy and Forestry to try and manage these activities, and prosecutions or other enforcement action could eventuate.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Forestry said “that the logging upstream has now been stopped and we are working with Solomon Water and other key stakeholders to manage the situation. It will take a while for the area to recover from the effects of logging but we are doing all we can to assist Solomon Water. The company has been informed to do rehabilitation of buffer zones and make proper drainage and turnouts to the buffer and not directly to the river/stream before moving out of the concerned area within the Kongulai catchment area. On behalf of the Ministry, I apologise to those who have suffered on not receiving water at their residence in Honiara. We will try our best to monitor, cease operations, report, discipline and work with Solomon Water going forward.”
A new treatment plant for Kongulai is under design, but these things do not happen quickly and it will not be ready until late 2020. At a cost of $120m plus millions of dollars a year to operate, this is the true cost of logging that will be borne by the good people of Honiara. A few individuals may have benefitted from the logging.
Solomon Water Board Chairman, Carson Korowa said “We’ve come a long way since near insolvency in 2012 when we used to supply water for 5 hours per day. With the improvements that we are undertaking our supply duration is 22 hours and we strive to provide 24 hours in the near future. We are with you in improving the water system for all”.
The logging activities that cause turbidity is beyond anything Solomon Water could have done. We have become victims of these activities, and unfortunately the people of Honiara by consequence are also victims of these logging activities. Solomon Water sincerely regrets the inconvenience this has caused.
Other initiatives Solomon Water is taking is reactivating some of our tension damaged bores in White River and also disused boreholes in Panatina and Kombito. These should be operating again in a few months’ time. Investigation of a Carbon trading scheme whereby landowners are compensated to not log and preserve the forest is also under investigation and will be discussed with key stakeholders shortly. This could include replanting the logged areas to try and stop the earth being washed away by rain.
Much of the water pipe network is very old and constructed pre-independence, it has many leaks and we have a programme to replace many pipes in coming years – this is very expensive and reflects years of under investment in this key infrastructure by previous governments. 20% of our water is stolen by people with illegal water connections, these people are stealing money from the good paying customers. Solomon Water is increasing its non-revenue water programme to reduce these losses, and urges the good people of Solomon Islands to report leaks and illegal water connections.
Solomon Water wishes to apologise to it’s customers for the very unfortunate situation and acknowledges their understanding given during the period of water disruption.