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Climate change expected to mean longer dry spells

Sustainable water management plans are in the pipeline to tackle more severe weather expected to be brought about by climate change, Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, told MPs today.

Providing an update on the Water and Waste Water Master Plan, Colonel Burch said: “Climate change is expected to lead to more severe storms and longer dry spells in Bermuda.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, outlined plans to create regulatory oversight of the water utility sector (File photograph)

“Though total rainfall is likely to increase, it will be in the form of more severe storms and hurricanes, which can contaminate household tanks with saltwater.

“During dry spells, household tanks are depleted and the demand for trucked water spikes, which has led to rationing in some cases.”

On waste water treatment, plants discharge minimally treated sewage into the ocean, said the minister.

One plant is being decommissioned through the Bermuda Land Development Company but a second, larger outfall off Hungry Bay, in Paget, discharges waste water and occasional grease into the sea, which has caused grease balls to wash up on South Shore beaches.

Colonel Burch said: “In addition to impacting the aesthetic value of the beaches, grease balls are also a potential public health risk.

“While the Corporation of Hamilton has attempted to mitigate this issue by implementing a fats, oils and grease policy in 2015, replaced its waste water filtering screens and hired a retired health inspector to work with restaurants to enforce the use and regular cleaning of grease traps, more investments are needed for equipment improvements.”

Colonel Burch highlighted there was a risk of residents consuming unsafe water.

He said: “The Department of Health does what it can with the resources available with regard to a drinking water-quality monitoring programme.

“However, water testing is usually done on a voluntary basis or in response to specific complaints from customers.

“This creates a risk that customers could consume unsafe water as it is difficult for them to evaluate the quality of the drinking water by themselves. If residents drink tank water that is unfiltered, it exposes the individual to potential health risks.”

Colonel Burch pointed out that large public and private water service providers in Bermuda were not subject to economic regulation.

“In any free market, competition between sellers helps keep costs low. When there is little or no competition, businesses are less likely to provide efficient services at the lowest cost possible, justifying the use of regulation to determine a price that is fair to both buyers and sellers.

“Unlike water utilities in other countries, large public and private service providers in Bermuda are not subject to economic regulation.

“Locally, private providers set their own prices. Since these companies are selling a basic daily need in a market without competitors, there is the risk that private service providers could charge prices far above their cost of service.

“Just to be clear, the Government is not accusing any company in the current market of price gauging, it is just a possibility that may occur in the future resulting from climate change and drought periods.

“In addition, without competition, service providers are less likely to provide high-quality service and expand coverage to less-profitable areas.

“For example, if public providers cannot charge what it costs to provide services, there is a risk that they may postpone maintenance or infrastructure investments, reducing the quality of service and limiting their ability to connect new customers.”

During the question period, Opposition MP Craig Cannonier asked whether home kits would be made available to residents so they could test their own water.

Colonel Burch said there had been “conversations” with technical officers during a first round of consultation last September and October and that the idea would be explored during the consultation phase.

Colonel Burch said a study titled Strategy for Sustainable Water and Waste water Servicing – St George’s Parish was completed in 2018 by Associated Engineering (International) Ltd to determine a long-term strategy for the Parish of St George’s water and waste water systems.

“It stated that a 20-year strategy was necessary to ensure that the island’s future water needs are met,” he said.

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Published May 20, 2023 at 7:57 am (Updated May 20, 2023 at 7:57 am)

Climate change expected to mean longer dry spells

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