With rain continuing to pound the coast, the government yesterday announced that water would be released into the Mahaica Creek from the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC), a move likely to deepen criticism of its handling of drainage since the 2005 Great Flood.
Government at the recommendation of the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) has begun releasing water into the Mahaica Creek, now that the water in the East Demerara Water Conservancy has risen above the ‘full supply’ level. This is according to Minister of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, who put out a release on the situation yesterday. In 2005 and 2006, the release of water from the swollen EDWC into the Mahaica Creek caused deep flooding in parts of Mahaica and Mahaicony and it took weeks for residents to recover.
“With deep regrets this morning, I informed the President of Guyana and the Civil Defense Commission of my decision to support the recommendation of the EDWC Commission to open the Maduni Sluice to release water from the East Demerara Conservancy,” Dr Ramsammy said yesterday.
“This is the latest of the actions we have taken to maintain the conservancy at a safe level. In most of the places where we measure the amount of rainfall, the amount of rainfall for January 2012 has surpassed by several fold the long term average for January,” he said.
Minister Ramsammy said that due to the continuous rainfall resulting from the La Nina weather phenomenon, the level of water in the East Demerara Water Conservancy has reached a threatening level and is still rising.
“As a last resort, the Commission of EDWC has taken the decision to have controlled release of water through the Mahaica Creek via the Maduni outlet so as to ensure the integrity of the EDWC dams. Water will be released via the Maduni sluice at low tides commencing (yesterday),” the Minister said.
Further, he said that excess water continues to be evacuated from the EDWC into the Demerara River via the five-door sluice at Land of Canaan and outlets at Kofi and Cunha on the East Bank.
“Releases from these outlets remain our first choice and we will continue to release from these outlets. As soon as it is possible, we will stop releases from the Maduni and rely exclusively on the Demerara River outlets,” Dr. Ramsammy said.
He said that given the decision of the EDWC Commission to release water through the Maduni, the Ministry of Agriculture is urging that all precautions be taken to ensure that the discharge of water to the Atlantic via the Maduni “does not acutely aggravate an already rising Mahaica Creek, due to the high level of rainfall in the Mahaica/Mahaicony catchment areas which flow into the various creeks and rivers.”
In addition, residents in the upper reaches of the Mahaica and Mahaicony Creeks are advised to be on the alert and to take necessary precautions with the release of water to prevent any pressure on the dam.
The Minister in his release said that the average level of the EDWC is 57.6 GD (Georgetown Datum) which is just above the full supply level of 57.5 GD. The height of the Conservancy Dam is 59 GD.
Speaking to Stabroek News yesterday, Drainage Engineer Walter Willis said that as at 06:00 hours yesterday, the level of the EDWC was 58.02. He said that the level of the water can go another foot higher before it is considered at a crisis level.
Willis said that for every inch of rain that falls, the EDWC rises by a corresponding 1.5 inch because of the catchment of water coming from other sources.
Asked about the threat to the communities in the Mahaica and Mahaicony as a result of the controlled release, Willis said that he did not believe that the flooding there would be extensive. “We are lowering the level of the EDWC. All sluices are working. We have more than 40 pumps. But with all of the pumps and natural drainage we can only drain one and a half inch per day,” Willis said.
He said also that compounding the problem too is the fact that the pumps at the Kitty Pump Station cannot fully function because of impediments that block the water from getting to the pumps.
Over the years, the authorities have had to rely on the controlled release of water into the Mahaica Creek through the Lama and Maduni sluices as a means of averting what can be termed as a greater threat to the communities and economic activities along the East Coast of Demerara.
The last time this occurred was in March 2011, when the conservancy had reached a threatening level. The statement from the EDWC Board through the Ministry of Agriculture said the move was done as a last resort.
The statement then said that from the start of the La Nina period, excess water was being released from the EDWC into the Demerara River via the five-door sluice at Land of Canaan and outlets at Kofi and Cunha.
The Maduni Sluice was also opened from December 27, 2008 until January 6, 2009 and during the length of this opening, the water level in the conservancy was reduced from 58.40 (GD) to 58.10 GD when it was eventually closed.
According to data provided by then Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud in February 2009, the highest water level recorded at Maduni during the month of January was 58.40 GD on January 7, 2009.
In his statement yesterday, Minister Ramsammy said that the ongoing construction of the EDWC Northern Relief Channel at Hope/Dochfour when completed will prevent the use of the Lama and Maduni to discharge and put communities under threat. But critics have said that this project may not necessarily be the answer to the predicament the Government finds itself in when faced with the possible breach of the EDWC in times of high rainfall.
Following the Great Flood of 2005, Mahaica and Mahaicony residents have been at the mercy of the drainage authorities, with serious flooding as a result of controlled releases from the EDWC occurring in 2006/2007 and to a lesser extent in 2008. The flooding has become a yearly regimen that some of the residents are beginning to come to grips with, and others who cannot are moving out from the area.
Critics have said that seven years after the Great Flood the government still does not have a comprehensive plan to battle flooding and its flagship effort, the Good Hope drainage channel from the EDWC to the Atlantic is progressing slowly. They also say that the heavily silted EDWC cannot hold as much water as it used to and that that it a problem the government is not addressing.