CI Times Weekly | Current Issue 254 | 09 June 2008

$47 million to upgrade water supply

Worried about the cost of building the new indoor sports stadium and of servicing the $13 million loan from the Chinese? That’s peanuts and just a minor headache compared to the $47 million it’s going to cost to upgrade and maintain our water systems and that doesn’t include the cost of the yearly maintenance.
Under the national infrastructure master plan for the water sector the projects identified as required to upgrade the water supply system on Rarotonga and the outer islands over the next 20 years have been divided into short term (within the next 3 years), ongoing, medium term (years 5-10)and long-term (years 10-20).
The capital expenditure requirements to build all of the identified projects were estimated to be $47.3 million over 20 years, with about $10.7 million needed to fund the short term projects, $14.10 million for Medium Term projects and $22.50 for Long Term projects.
The current demand for water is around 4,900 cubic metres per day including water losses (Preventative Infrastructure Master Plan report).
Water quality is not measured systematically and so available data comprises spot measurements and qualitative observations. Water is generally of acceptable quality for a raw water source, although turbidity spikes are a problem during intense or extended rainfall periods. All sources are bacteriologically contaminated and therefore the raw water is unsafe for potable use without disinfection. Consequently, people either boil the water or buy bottled water for potable use. Diarrhea and water-borne diseases are noticeable on Rarotonga.
There is no with no treatment of the raw water apart from a coarse gravel filter screen at all of the intakes except for the Tupapa intake which also includes an Arkal fine filter. There are no elevated storages for security of supply purposes. Filtered water is fed into the distribution system via gravity transmission pipelines ranging in size from 150 mm to 250 mm in diameter. The pre-1992 mains are of asbestos cement while those constructed after 1992 are of UPVC.
The distribution system comprises a two 32 km long ring mains around the island and over 180 km of secondary and tertiary reticulation pipelines. The ring mains vary in size from 150 mm to 250 diameter and are of asbestos cement, galvanized steel or UPVC construction. The secondary and tertiary pipelines range in size from 25 mm to 80mm in diameter and are mostly of galvanized mild steel.
There is only one storage in the system, at Takuvaine, which comprises a 450 Cubic metre and a 2,500 cubic metre tanks. In addition there are three other storages that have been taken out of commission; one of these, the 450 cubic metre Hospital Reservoir is used by nearby residents to capture roof runoff from the hospital; the 450 cubic metre tank at Papua and the 10,000 cubic metre storage at Akaoa. These provide barely adequate reserve water for emergency use such as fire fighting. The combined capacities are inadequate for storage for supply during extended periods of no rainfall. The need for additional storages and capacities must be investigated as part of the upgrade of the entire system.
The ring main serves to even out pressures, however during peak demand conditions pressures are generally low on the northwest of the island, in the Arorangi- Nikao area. Effectively, all households on Rarotonga (MOW advised in excess of 99%) have access to clean water. The only exceptions are those living at higher elevations which cannot be supplied by gravity. The town reticulated water system is also used for agricultural purposes. Households that are not connected to the central system rely on rainwater capture and on-site storage tanks as their source of supply, which is augmented by purchasing and carting in water from the town network during extended dry periods.
Many of the pipes are old and heavily corroded and therefore require replacement. Although MOW estimates indicate water loss in excess of 70%, neither the sources nor consumers are metered so water losses cannot be determined with any reliability. Without reducing these high losses, there is little benefit in providing head works improvements as most of the water would drain away long before reaching the users. A realistic or acceptable level for water loss is 15% to 20% of production therefore loss reduction must be a priority action for MOW.
MOW has replaced about 70% of the secondary and tertiary pipes in the distribution network. The remainder is scheduled for replacement over the next three years. This would leave only the ring main for replacement. The renovation of the distribution network should result in significant reduction in water losses due to leakage in the pipelines.
As water is provided free of charge, connections are not metered, Hence there is no reliable data on per capita water use. The only available figures are those obtained from past studies which may have included some limited water use measurements for various user categories. This is highlighted by the fact that the estimates for per capita water use on Rarotonga vary from180 Litres/capita per day (MOW internal reports and verbal advice) to 460 Litres/capita per day (Brockman Tym study ADB TA 3085). With such a wide range for one of the most important and basic parameters makes planning of system upgrades very difficult.
Investment and Financial Sustainability
In absence of a formal development strategy or master plan, system improvements are carried out on somewhat of an ad hoc basis with almost total focus on just replacing the distribution network. This is inefficient. The situation is made worse by the modest budgets received from the government for both capital and operational costs. Capital budget allocations over the period 1998 to 2004 averaged around $800,000 per annum.
Annual operation and administration allocations to the Water Supply Department of MOW is around $0.50 million of which some $0.40 million is for administration purposes. This leaves only $0.10 million annually for operation and maintenance; much too small for proper asset management.
Tariffs are not applied and there is a strong resistance to introducing user charges both from the government, public sector and the community. While the water may be free, as it is commonly cited in the Cook Islands, the government’s investment in the delivery assets (pipes and intakes) is significant as is the annual recurring cost of operation and maintenance. Without sufficient funds the system cannot be maintained adequately. In fact people are paying for their water now.
The government’s investment in water through the annual capital and operational budgets is equivalent to about $200 per household per year on average.
This is equivalent to about $17/month per household for clean water being piped into houses for non-potable use (excluding the cost of water losses in system). This sum is paid through the general taxes. Households typically use bottled water for drinking and cooking purposes. Assuming three 15-liter bottles per household per week, households pay about $84/for potable water. Therefore, the actual cost of water for a typical Rarotongan household is about $100/month. This is equivalent to $3.60/m3.
The above suggests that if tariffs for potable quality water supply could be delivered to households for less than this amount, it would actually be cheaper for users to pay for the service and at the same time have the convenience of drinking water on tap. A separate “visible” charge for water would also encourage reduction of wastage through repair of leaking taps and pipes, and would prompt agriculture users to find alternative sources of supply to being connected to the reticulation system.

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-$47 million to upgrade water supply

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