Water & Sewerage Corporation Chairman Adrian Gibson (file photo)

Residents in Central Eleuthera, without their own independent water supply, from Savannah Sound to Gregory Town, woke up on Tuesday morning, October 20th, 2020, unaware of the harrowing week ahead that they would be caught up in, with no running water, amid rising Covid-19 cases on the island, as the Water & Sewerage Corporation (WSC) and their contracted foreign reverse osmosis operator disagreed over timeliness of payments to the foreign operator.

It would not be until Friday afternoon, October 23rd, 2020, that the WSC would release a notice to the public, via their social media page, advising customers that the plant was finally operational again, saying, “The Water and Sewerage Corporation advises customers in Central Eleuthera that our Reverse Osmosis Facility is now operating at full capacity.  Some customers will continue to experience periods of low pressure, or no water, especially customers at higher elevations,  over the next 24 hours, as the distribution system is repressurized.  Settlements affected are Windermere Island, Savannah Sound, Palmetto Point, Governors Harbour, and James Cistern.  The Corporation apologizes for any inconvenience caused as we work to bring water supply back to normal. Customers who  continue to experience reduced service levels should contact the Corporation at (242)1-300-0150.”

As Central Eleutherans throughout the week were left with no water, affecting local government services, businesses, and homes, reasons for the sudden cutoff of the supply were left to rumour and hearsay.  In fact, the WSC, itself in a notice to the public on Monday evening, ahead of the supply cut, stated that the impending lack of service, was because of ‘technical difficulties’.

On Friday, October 23rd, 2020, the WSC finally released a public statement describing its’ tussle with the foreign operator, which began, “Last night (Thursday, Oct 22nd), the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) obtained an injunction against a reverse osmosis operator (of foreign origin) after that company deliberately and egregiously shut off the water supply to the people of Central Eleuthera.”

The WSC condemned the foreign operator’s actions, and placed blame for the position the Corporation was in on the former government, saying, “These acts come amid the worst global pandemic in the last 100 years, a pandemic where clean water and the maintenance of good hygiene is paramount… This contract, and several other related contracts, were signed under a previous Administration.”

The Corporation’s statement continued, confirming that water had been restored and offered an apology to their customers adding that action would be taken to protect their right to a water supply, “The water has been turned back on in Central Eleuthera and, given the shutdown, customers (particularly those at higher elevations) will experience low pressure as the distribution system is being pressurized.  The Water and Sewerage Corporation apologizes to the people of Central Eleuthera for the inconvenience caused by these unfortunate actions.  WSC will take every action to protect the people of Eleuthera and the Bahamas and their right to have access to water.”

The WSC ended the statement, giving an outline of steps they had recently taken to counter the actions of the foreign reverse osmosis operator, “Even as we face COVID-19, the Corporation has endeavoured to continue with regular payments to reverse osmosis providers.  Last night (Thursday, Oct 22nd), WSC lawyers appeared before Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles upon the instructions of WSC Executive Chairman Mr. Adrian Gibson, MP.

“Today, the Order was filed and served upon the company in question.  The Order includes a penal notice which declares that the said company and its agents “may be held to be in contempt of Court and may be imprisoned or fined or have you assets seized” should the Order be disobeyed or breached.

“The Supreme Court’s Order directs that the Defendant company is “forthwith compelled to immediately reinstate production and supply of water to the Central Eleuthera Settlements” and to “cease and desist the demobilization process thereunder”.

A vital question that some Eleuthera residents are now asking is, ‘If a foreign operator can choose to hold the public hostage, by effectively cutting off the water supply, for whatever reason, do we want to be in such a vulnerable position as a society, for something as essential – to all aspects of life – as water’?