Guam – The Guam Waterworks Authority (GWA) says high turbidity levels caused by heavy rains and an earthquake are the reasons why a good portion of southern customers were without water for more than 3 days. However, some southern residents believe quality water service shouldn’t be such an issue.
“We’re going to get better.” said GWA General Manager Martin Rousch. “We’re going to use this storm to just do a lot better planning.”
GWA plans to get better in planning for rare storm events that caused southern residents to have low water pressure or be without water for days. Rousch says record breaking rainfall caused high turbidity levels that forced the shut down of the Ugum Water Treatment Plant on Thursday, September 19, but they had an initial plan to supply the south.
“In high turbidity extended conditions, we had a plan to serve water from the north to the south,” said Rousch.
Rousch explains their plan worked until an earthquake on Thursday broke three lines that helped bring water from the northern wells down to southern customers.
Water Operations Manager Tony Chargualaf says the breaks occurred in Agana Heights, Mangilao and Chalan Pago. While they were able to repair the lines within several hours in poor weather conditions, the recovery time took longer than expected because of water pressure issues.
“What it did was it created a hiccup for us,” said Chargualaf. “The recovery time that it took, unfortunately, took right around last night for us to fully allow for restoration down to all the southern villages.”
Chargualaf notes they immediately put water tankers all over the south, but water loss wasn’t immediate because of their reservoirs.
GWA spokesperson Heidi Ballendorf confirmed on Sunday that Ugum went back on-line, but it would be another day before southern residents would have full water restoration. Chargulaf adds about 50 homes were still without water just before 11 am today when gwa briefed members of the media on the restoration efforts.
“Yona is fully restored,” said Chargualaf. “Inarajan is fully restored, Talofofo is fully restored. Merizo and Umatac, right now, there’s still some pocket areas in those high elevated areas and some high elevated areas across cross island road.”
Rousch explains the shut down of the Ugum plant was also for safety reasons because GWA doesn’t want any employees being hurt or washed away in flooding or high wind conditions.
“This decision was made also for employee safety,” said Rousch. “So that’s really important to understand. We believe this is the right way to operate Ugum. And the chances are, you’re not going to have earthquakes at the same time as you’re having storms. And if you did, the chances are it’s not going to break the supply line.”
Merizo resident Bobbie Lujan represents hundreds of people that were without water for more than 3 days. She and her family used rainwater to survive and 5 gallon buckets of water to shower.
She says she’s frustrated with GWA using the high turbidity excuse when Guam has gone through so many typhoons in the last 20 years. Lujan also feels with all the technology available today, having reliable water service shouldn’t be such a problem.
“We’ve been hearing the same old excuses and it’s just not right,” said Lujan. “It’s not fair to the people, the tax payers, that pay for these utilities to work for us when we need them. My frustration is the fact that waking up at 6 a.m. in the morning and not having water. It’s terrible.”
She also says she spoke to Senator Mike San Nicolas about her frustrations and he gave his word he would work with lawmakers to get things prioritized for southern residents. In the meantime, Lujan says her water was finally restored this morning. She hopes to see the local government get its utilities up to par.
“The bottom line, Josh, is maintenance,” said Lujan. “We need good people working to keep and maintain these utilities in proper working order. The population is growing day by day. We’re going to need these utilities up to par and working for every single person on this island.”
Anticipated water restoration is expected by 6 p.m. tonight for all southern customers. GWA is asking anyone still without water to give them a call.