The Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) is appalled at the false and misleading information again being spread by politicians and would like to correct some of these.
As Chairman, I would like to once again correct and educate these politicians (please note this is not a threat as Mr Biman Prasad has stated in multiple releases but merely educating him on basics of water treatment. At times, there are some people who feel threatened because they think they know too much, when in fact they have no idea what they are talking about) on how water and wastewater treatment plants are run by dedicated teams of WAF staff working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with a budget that is allocated year on year.
On 16 December, 2021 Biman put out a statement, titled ‘WAF lacks transparency and accountability – Wastage and pilferage of over a billion dollars”, where he questioned where $1.6 billion allocated for capital investment in the last 10 budgets since 2012 had been spent.
WAF, since 2010 to 2019/2020 financial year, has connected more Fijian villages and settlements to water than at any time before – we have invested in 611 projects in rural and 949 in urban areas Fiji and have connected over 208,144 previously ignored Fijians to water, having conducted large projects in urban areas. In 2010 a total number of 576,941 Fijians were connected to clean treated water whose infrastructure has been upgraded in 10 years and in 2021 customer numbers have increased to 647,556. This is 89% of Fijians connected.
The financial year 2020/2021 has projects still in progress due to the effects of COVID-19.
Some politicians seem to think that all of WAF’s spending goes into urban water systems only. This is incorrect. We manage rural and urban water systems and also provide wastewater management services for the entire country. For the existing customers from 2010 WAF continues to maintain the water and wastewater reticulation systems through various CAPEX projects that account for pipe replacements, automation and also rehabilitation works.
All the following figures are available in public domain.
For the rural region, WAF has spent $83,912,550 since 2010, investing in 611 projects, as listed below in the Rural Region Spending Table.
- Note – for the financial year 2016 all projects were rolled over to the 2016/2017 financial year. The 2016 financial year only accounts for 7 months (January to July) as WAF has changed its financial year from Calendar to Government Financial Year.
From 2010 to 2021, $1,096,473,886 has been spent for urban infrastructure, with 949 projects, benefitting more than 659,824 residents so far. In many projects the same set of population has benefited due to water, wastewater, automation and rehabilitation works on the same area as can be seen in the Urban Spending Table.
In the past, rural Fijians were largely ignored and this changed with the new Authority – Is Biman Prasad suggesting that we should not have connected all these Fijians to water?
There has been a massive rural to urban drift and now hundreds of thousands of people live in the Suva to Nausori corridor, which has put a considerable strain on our current infrastructure. This drift was foreseen and plans were put in place to find a new source of raw water and build a new treatment plant.
WAF, from the year 2010 to 2014, started working with consultants to determine the viability of a new source for what is now the Viria Project when it was discovered that the original source site at Kasavu, Nausori has saltwater intrusion. Site sampling works were in progress at Delaidamanu in 2014 when it became known that there was going to be mining activities upstream of the source hence the new source at Viria was identified in 2015.
After the new source was confirmed, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided WAF with Technical Assistance and Feasibility Study to reconfirm the Suva Master Plan before WAF started working with ADB and the Fijian Government to secure funding. Preliminary design commenced in 2017 and the final construction public tender was called in 2018 and awarded in April, 2019, and from when works commenced at the Viria Project Site for F$270 million to build, operate and transfer after 7 years new Rewa / Viria water treatment plant.
COVID-19 has further delayed the project but construction works started again in December, 2021.
We are building infrastructure to reduce this strain – the Viria project being the major one, which will increase our supply capacity in the Suva-Nausori area by 40 million litres per day (MLD), with the plant designed for additional capacity of 40 MLD, allowing for a total production of 80 MLD when the need arises. This is the kind of forward planning which was not done in the past. On top of this, there are many other infrastructural upgrades being done around the country.
It is also important to note that the money is not just spent on projects as one-off things, but includes maintenance and upkeep, with necessary repairs and upgrades carried out over time.
New upgrades and treatment plants have been commissioned in Namau, and further projects set to be commissioned in 2022 include Nagado, Waiwai, Savusavu, Vunidawa, Nabouwalu and Pacific Harbour.
In the statement NFP put out a series of figures, claiming they are the allocated budget and capital grants for WAF.
Contrary to Biman Prasad’s misleading statements, WAF is now more transparent than ever before and the figures cited are mostly incorrect.
All accounts of spending are publicly available for anyone to view through our annual reports and in the Auditor-General’s report. Our accounts have been audited until the 2017 Financial Year. The 2018 audit has been completed by the Office of Auditor General (OAG) and we are awaiting a draft management letter from the OAG. WAF has submitted 2019 Financials to the OAG for audit. The 2020/2021 Financials will be submitted to the OAG upon sign-off on the 2019 audit report.
Every cent of spending is accounted for and every contractor we engage is now processed through the tender-link system and strict protocols are followed when tenders are received, evaluated, and awarded.
The series of numbers put out by NFP were all incorrect – Is this how NFP allocates budgets?
They also did not acknowledge that actual grants received were less than initial estimates since there were budget cuts and rollover works.
NFP’s claimed figures
As you can see from these figures, NFP did not do their due diligence, but instead put out badly researched numbers to score political points and degrade our hardworking staff and board.
Biman also asked if it was true WAF is planning to get rid of more workers by making it compulsory that only those with qualifications will have their contracts renewed, and made personal attacks without even verifying this claim, calling the Board unkind, uncaring and totally devoid of compassion, care, and concern.
The qualification requirements for our personnel have always existed and haven’t just been introduced as Prasad is falsely claiming. We recruit qualified people such as engineers to maintain and upgrade our system. We are talking about treating water which people consume, and can be a life or death situation if it is handled by unqualified people. Water treatment requires qualified specialists – Is he suggesting we start employing people without any qualifications and let them play with people’s lives?
This makes no sense at all whatsoever from the NFP leader. On one hand, he is saying we need to do more, on the other hand, he is suggesting we do not need qualified people to maintain our systems?
On 8 December 2021, NFP Leader Biman Prasad put out a statement claiming that the reasons given by WAF regarding turbidity were excuses, doubting the science, and asked whether WAF was changing its filters regularly to minimise or prevent turbidity.
Increased turbidity cannot be minimised or prevented by filters and occurs independent of WAF’s Water Treatment Plant operating conditions.
This isn’t some under the sink filter that one can unscrew, clean and install within 10 minutes. I repeat my offer from March 2021 for Mr Prasad and any other politician to come and visit a treatment plant so they can understand the full process on what is involved when it comes to treating water.
Mr Prasad, nor any other politicians have taken up my offer. Instead, they sit in their offices and rattle off wild, unverified claims. If they had visited, then perhaps they would not be making false statements.
Turbidity is merely filtered at the Water Treatment Plant for aesthetic and treatment purposes. Turbidity is caused by the deposit of silt and soil sediments into rivers when it rains.
Additionally, WAF does regularly change its sand media filters for its water treatment plants based on the design life expectancy for sand media filters which is between 10 – 15 years.
In the intervening years from installation to when the filter media needs to be replaced, there is a process called backwashing within each water treatment plant that is utilised to clear any clogging of filters. This process can occur on average anywhere from 2 to 6 times a day, or more, depending on the quality of the raw water being received. In cases of high turbidity, we have to do this more than 6 times which reduces production and, in turn, reduces clean water to fill reservoirs, which then reduces supply to customers, especially those living in elevated areas because the reservoirs cannot be filled fast enough to certain levels for gravity flow to take effect.
We wish to reiterate that the turbidity in the raw water, itself, is beyond the control of WAF, and as human activity is the main factor that makes areas susceptible to high turbidity, the best way to mitigate this is for all involved to work together and educate farmers living upriver on soil management.
Biman also asked why this was not an issue in the past.
Frankly, Mr Prasad should be able to figure this out as he constantly claims to be an expert and touts his qualifications as a professor. In 2010/2011 production was 156 MLD with an average daily demand of 148 MLD, and now production is 172 MLD and the daily demand is 174 MLD – Actually, you don’t even need to be an economist to do the maths, it is basic primary school mathematics.
As supply capacity is being exceeded by current demands it places great stress on our infrastructure, which is why the Viria Project is being constructed.
Additionally, the recent increased human activity in catchment areas has exacerbated the issue.
Soil erosion in the source catchment is a major contributor to issues of turbidity where finely suspended silt and soil particles affect the clarity of the water.
High turbidity resulting from rainfall puts additional pressure on the treatment process as it takes a longer time for the treatment process to remove the finely suspended silt and soil particles.
In an effort to maintain treatment standards to ensure safe drinking water inflow into the plant has to be reduced to account for the longer treatment process reducing the volume produced while maintaining the quality of water being supplied to customers.
So, while the weather plays a role in turbidity, it is human activity that makes the soil and environment vulnerable to being washed away and increases the level of turbidity. Commonly it is one of the by-products of human activity within the watershed catchment of a raw water supply intake.
Multiple villages and communities are located upstream of the intake and the residents are involved in farming activities, as either a main source or supplementary source of livelihood.
Control of human activities within the water catchment areas is one way that turbidity issues could be minimised. With better land management and use, runoff of soil will be reduced, resulting in less turbidity in the Waimanu River, as well as all other rivers in Fiji where WAF sources its raw water from. This is primarily a matter of personal responsibility for the citizens engaging in these activities.
Biman also claimed that water carting trucks only respond to the list that truck drivers have provided.
This is untrue, water carting is provided to areas affected by disruptions or intermittent supply, individuals are not on our list – we provide water for the entire area during such times and do not pick and choose households.
If he can provide evidence of this claim, we will take all responsible people (staff and water carting companies) to task – We genuinely will await his evidence. If he has no evidence then he should withdraw this statement.
Biman once again was dismissive of the science behind why turbidity presents such a challenge and causes disruptions.
If Mr Prasad does not want to be corrected on his science, then he should simply refrain from making statements that are scientifically incorrect.
The statement he was referring to titled “Don’t Ignore Basic Science – WAF Urges NFP” had the following:
“Biman Prasad making comments such as “There is no water when it doesn’t rain, there is no water in the taps when it rains” shows us that the ‘Professor’ has very little understanding of the basic science of treating water, and the technical aspects of water treatment and services for our country.”
“For example, this week, Suva received more than average rainfall, which was obvious to everyone, but that does not mean WAF can treat and supply all this water. Due to the high rainfall, our intakes at Waimanu River faced very high turbidity and debris, resulting in major blockages. Sigatoka also faced similar issues.”
As explained earlier, there are disruptions when there is excessive rain, as well as when there is drought.
Prolonged dry weather increases the risk of reduced water flow or yield from the water sources, which reduces the volume of water extracted. For pump stations, the sources must maintain a specific height of water to allow the pumps to operate normally. Lower levels affect the efficiency of the pump and increase the risk of mechanical damage.
On the other hand, while high rainfall resolves the issues of low source yield, it brings about issues of turbidity, that results from the activities carried out upstream of the extraction point that include farming, gravel extraction, land development and deforestation.
WAF urges all politicians to be responsible and not spread misinformation. We also urge the media to be very careful about what they publish.
WAF advises customers to conserve and always store sufficient amounts of water to last for at least 2 to 3 days in their homes at all times, when water is available, to prepare for disruptions – especially during cyclone and drought seasons.
For further enquiries, customers can call 3346777 or shortcode 5777 (all-mobile network users), email email@example.com or go to the WAF Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WaterAuthorityofFiji