Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Global warming has nothing to do with present conservancy problems; it is neglect and poor maintenance of the infrastructure

Global warming has nothing to do with present conservancy problems; it is neglect and poor maintenance of the infrastructure

Posted By Stabroek staff On June 17, 2009 @ 5:04 am In Letters | 2 Comments

Dear Editor,
Reference is made to a letter in SN by Charles Sohan on the subject of the Ministry of Agriculture cherry-picking items from the proposed Conservancy Adaptation Works study for their Cunha project (‘The Ministry of Agriculture cannot cherry-pick elements from the Conservancy Adaptation Works project because it will not fulfuil the aim of reducing the country’s vulnerability to flooding,’ June 11).

Since 1990 to date numerous studies have been carried out by various foreign consultants in conjunction with local consultants on the EDWC, and despite the government spending vast sums of borrowed money, there is no end in sight for at least one of these consultants to come up with something concrete to end the drainage problems experienced over the years in the EDWC.

In 2004 the government against my advice spent over US$5.0M to raise the conservancy dam by 4 feet in order to increase storage capacity of the reservoir. This in my opinion precipitated the disastrous 2005 flood as the original dam built in 1879 was on a pegasse foundation and removing the vegetation and topsoil that holds the dam material together and then placing an additional load of nearly 500lbs per square foot weakened the strength of the dam appreciably.

Since then there were reports of more spending to raise other sections of the dam as well as carrying out all kinds of work related to strengthening of the EDWC.

I was also made to understand that the US$42M loan obtained by the government some 4 years ago to maintain the nine Declared Drainage and Irrigation Areas throughout the country was also spent on the conservancy. I am not sure if this is correct. The first tender for the D&I areas came in about US$6.0M above the engineer’s estimate, and after revising the quantum of work and re-tendering on 2 further occasions this vital work was abandoned, leaving the declared D&I areas not being maintained for over 30 years.

Now the government, against the advice of myself and other engineers, has decided to pursue the controversial Hope High Level Canal Project recommended by two foreign experts at a cost of some US$15M plus, and now also wants to resuscitate the Cunha drainage outlet which was abandon in the ’60s after Land of Canaan sluice was built.

One of the foreign experts would also be doing further studies to coincide with the Hope Canal outlet. In the DC dated 16.6.09 it was reported that foreign experts would be submitting an up-to-date report on their findings shortly.

In an earlier letter I suggested how the government should pursue this problem, but they are reticent to do so and keep listening to local and foreign experts’ advice who have had little or no experience in the construction, operation and maintenance of a low-level reservoir whose dam is built on a poor foundation material.

In 1966-67 there was a major breach in the conservancy dam at Flagstaff due to the inept drawdown of the reservoir. I was attached to the Hydraulics Division at the time and was responsible along with the Bookers staff on site for sealing the breach.
Some time after this the government received over US$350M in additional revenue due to the rocketing price of sugar on the world market. The government then decided to adopt the Jagan mantra of nationalization of the sugar industry; it had already nationalized the bauxite industry. The Water Commissioners employed by Bookers who were responsible for operating and maintaining the reservoir decided to keep a low profile awaiting nationalization.

Of course, we all know today the present state of these 2 industries and their impact on the nation’s economy. The EDWC has also suffered not being maintained for over 40 years.

Fixing the conservancy in my opinion will be a very costly exercise as well as a continuous drain on government’s limited resources in the years to come. Decommissioning the conservancy will be equally costly and may involve relocation of a section of the population.

A similar situation exists with the general drainage on the coastlands. It took the previous government only 12 years after independence to destroy the institution inherited from the British.

There is no longer a hydrographic section nor a properly functioning hydro-met section. These sections provided valuable information to hydraulic engineers to design engineering works. Today everything is based on guesswork, dig a drain here and there and move pumps around hoping to alleviate the flooding problem. There is also no functioning Hydraulics Division or a viable force account workers section that can respond to any emergency. The division also has been relegated to a few engineers dealing with the sea defences only. Even the sea defence map, which contained over 30 years of invaluable sea defence foreshore erosion data information was destroyed in 1987 when the Hydraulics Division was relocated to Durban Street. The map was left on the ground and rain fell and destroyed the map. I do not believe climate change or global warming has anything to do with the present conservancy problems as postulated recently by the President, just sheer neglect and poor maintenance of the entire infrastructure works including the sea defences over the years. The poor state of the infrastructure works was brought to the government’s attention when they came to power 17 years ago and instead of correcting the problems as promised, the infrastructure was allowed to deteriorate further to its present alarming rate.
Yours faithfully,
M. Alli
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