Blocked outfall channel, not vandalised pumps resulted in West Berbice flooding –MMA/ADA head

- NDIA to tender for Trafalgar pump repairs

Tenders for repairs to the vandalised Trafalgar pumps are expected to go out soon, General Manager of the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary/Agriculture Development Authority (MMA/ADA) Aubrey Charles has said even as he highlighted that the blocked outfall channel was the main cause of the severe flooding experienced recently.

Charles told Stabroek News last week that the news regarding the repairs was relayed to him by head of the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) Fredrick Flatts. According to him, the NDIA board will be issuing the tenders. Stabroek News had previously reported that the pumps were vandalised two years ago.

Earlier this month, the West Coast Berbice villages served by the pumps experienced flooding that lasted for days and Flatts had said that the flooding could have been avoided if the two Trafalgar pumps were not vandalised. He had said that the delay in the repairs was due to a lack of finances with the NDIA needing about $40 million to put them back into operation. The NDIA head had also informed that the entity was looking to repair one by year-end.

Charles told Stabroek News on Friday that the two pumps at the Trafalgar pump station were too costly for his entity to repair and according to him, even if they were working, the areas would have still experienced slight flooding.

The two giant pumps at the pump station
The two giant pumps at the pump station

The MMA/ADA head related that since the MMA/ADA scheme was completed in 1988, four pumps were strategically placed at Trafalgar since the area was lower than the surrounding areas and water would easily accumulate there. “When you can’t get gravity drainage to the Atlantic, the pumps would kick in pumping water from the main drainage canal into the outfall channel and out into the sea,” Charles said. He emphasised the importance of the pump station, explaining that water from the surrounding villages would usually flow through the Trafalgar channels.

However, while there were originally four large pumps at the station, two were removed several years ago and the other two were vandalised, leaving them useless. Charles said he was unaware of where the other two pumps were relocated to and has not enquired about their whereabouts because they were moved a long time before he was appointed to head the MMA/ADA.

“The two pumps that are currently there, it’s not that the pumps themselves were vandalised but the cables leading to the pumps were vandalised. A big fat cable … they were stolen and I learned that they are very lucrative,” he said. He noted that this occurred about two years ago and since then the pumps have not been working.

However, that was not the first time that the pumps were vandalised as Stabroek News had reported in March of 2011 that the pumps were vandalised a month earlier but were fixed in the wake of severe flooding. The pumps had been refurbished and rehabilitated at a cost of millions of dollars in 2007 but no security guard was placed at the location.

Almost three years ago, residents had also complained that the rehabilitated Trafalgar pump was not working even though they were in a deep flood. Stabroek News had reported on February 11, 2008 that residents of Number 29 village had opined that had the two pumps at Trafalgar that were restored been in operation while the sluice was closed, they would not have suffered such serious losses.

Quizzed on whether the matter was reported to the authorities after it was noticed that the pumps were vandalised two years ago, Charles said yes but added that the case was not solved. “It was reported to the police and they didn’t get anywhere with it. If you had an eyewitness then maybe but you can just go and report to the police that the cable was stolen last night and the police can only work with that,” he said.

When questioned on the length of time being taken to repair the pumps, Charles said at that point in time, they did not have the financial resources for the works. “The repairs are costly and as much as we [MMA] manage the pumps, anything major has to be done by the NDIA. Any government has to look after the needs of the people all over the country and deem what is important. It’s like you’re a father and you have six children. You have to take care of all of them and it was expensive to repair,” he said.

Meantime, the former chairperson of the Union/ Naarstigheid Neighbour-hood Democratic Council (NDC) Dorothy Peters, related to Stabroek News that during the 21 years she was at the helm of the council, she had asked Charles about the two pumps that were taken away but never received a positive response and eventually, she stopped asking. “Eventually we just stop but from what I heard is that they were taken over to West Demerara but I am not sure,” she said.

The former chairperson said she had also asked about the two pumps that were vandalised but nothing was done. “We made complaints to the Region too but nothing happens and now that you get a disaster, now you hearing about the pump,” Peters observed. She pointed out that flooding had occurred there previously.

When Stabroek News questioned some residents, most of them said they did not know much and that one day, the pumps stopped working unexpectedly.

However, while Trafalgar and the surrounding communities were inundated over the past month, Charles said that even if the two pumps were working, there would still have been some flooding as the main problem was the silted outfall channel.

“It [the pumps] is critical because during periods of heavy downpour of rain, you find that the two door sluice cannot cope with the volume of water and when the sluice cannot cope with the water that’s when the pumps kick in. However, based on my own experience, if the outfall channel was clear there wouldn’t have had any use for the pumps because this rainy season wasn’t any big set of rain,” Charles said.

When questioned as to why the outfall channel was allowed to accumulate such an amount of silt over time, Charles explained that they would often rely on the water coming through the channel during the dry season to clear the silt, but because of the prolonged El Nino dry season, this did not happen.

“Because of El Nino, you didn’t have water in the system to keep flushing the outfall channel out so the silt from the Atlantic blocked it out. Even when the rain started to fall, we hoped that the water would’ve built up in the system and when the sluice door was opened, it would’ve run out and flush it,” he said. He pointed out that the amount of water that had accumulated was not enough and the channel remained blocked.

Charles recounted that when they discovered that the blockage could not be cleared by the natural flow of water, the NDIA lent them a pontoon with an excavator and they used another to dig the outfall channel. However, he pointed out that the channel being blocked was not an isolated problem as it has occurred elsewhere around the country and the pontoon and excavators have to be deployed to those spots as well. “Some of the silt was cleared but because when you clear the channel you move the slush to the side, when the high tide came in, it all rushed back into the middle and blocked the channel again,” Charles said.

“I think that even if we had the two pumps working and the channel was blocked, then we would’ve had some amount of flooding but not as much as it was but the main thing was the channel being blocked,” he insisted.

As a result, a mobile pump was placed at the pump station to help take off the excess flood water but Charles acknowledged that the mobile pump’s capacity could not be compared to the original pumps.

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