People traveling along Dennis Foster Road on the north side of Cayman Brac have likely noticed a large pipeline trencher and a crew of several people working roadside.
The work being done there is a part the Water Authority’s $35 million plan to lay more than 80 miles of pipe, intended to connect about 80 percent of Cayman Brac residents to the water grid by 2030. Economics and Statistics Office data state that only a little more than 14 percent of Sister Islands households currently have access to piped water.
The needs for the project are multifold, according to Water Authority officials, who say that it will boost the Brac’s economy, encourage development, and improve standards of living and public health.
However, progress has been slow. The Water Authority started the development in 2013 and has spent more than $4.5 million to make about 180 connections, according to the latest figures provided in the authority’s board meeting minutes. Water Authority officials did not respond to questions about whether the project was appraised, which is a requirement for projects under the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility.
Meanwhile, the majority of Brac residents either have water trucked in to them or they rely on well water.
In the 1970s, well water was not just the main source of hydration for Brackers, but also for the island’s then-thriving oil shipping industry.
“This is where the boats used to stop in,” said Brac resident Raymond Scott, referring to a spot on the north side of the island, about a mile west of the police station. “That’s why they call it Watering Place.”
Watering Place resident Weldon Anderson said as many as seven pumps would be in his backyard well when shipping crewmembers came ashore.
Recently, however, using well water has come with difficulties for the area’s residents. In April, the Department of Environmental Health issued a warning that the area’s wells were contaminated with E. coli and other bacteria.
When the Compass visited his home in May, Mr. Anderson said he has continued to use his well, and that the water seems fine. However, he said that he has to deal with another creeping problem: the mouth of his well is made of natural rock formations, which have been shrinking over the years. Though Mr. Anderson said he has only worked small jobs here and there recently, he will have to find a way to pay for someone to cut the rocks at the mouth to make it wider.
Along with avoiding these issues, piped water would also likely cut costs for residents and establishments that must have their water shipped in by trucks. Sister Islands Health Services Director Dr. Srirangan Velusamy said that Faith Hospital has already experienced savings on water since being connected to the grid in February.
Piped water could also lead to long-term savings for the Water Authority, as delivery fees for trucking water to residents have historically not been sufficient to cover the shipping costs, according to the authority’s board meeting minutes.
But with an initial crew of six and no outside funding, it will be years before the majority of Brackers are connected to the grid.
“The rate of pipeline installation is restricted by the number of resources that can be allocated as this project must be funded from revenue, as due to Government’s restrictions, the Water Authority is not allowed to borrow at this time,” the Water Authority said in a written statement to the Compass, referring to borrowing restrictions placed on Cayman by the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility.
To provide piped water to 80 percent of the Brac’s roughly 2,000 residents, the Water Authority will also have to increase its production capacity. To do that, part of the project entails the construction of a brand-new water plant on top of the island’s bluff.
“A key component of the infrastructure expansion plans is the construction, within the next two years, of a new water production, storage and pumping facility located on the Bluff at a higher elevation to ensure its reliable long-term operation and improve security of the island’s water supply,” the Water Authority stated. “Additionally, this new site is centrally located within the entire Cayman Brac water distribution system (when completed).”
The Water Authority stated that the existing water production plant is located on a site that is susceptible to flooding, which makes it especially vulnerable during hurricanes and tropical storms.
Once the new water plant is built, an existing containerized reverse osmosis plant installed in 2015 will be transferred to Little Cayman to begin water production there, the Water Authority added.
The Water Authority stated that aspects of the water plant construction will be tendered. The Water Authority also said that it is following Procurement Law procedures when acquiring resources valued at more than $10,000.
However, Cayman’s Framework for Fiscal Responsibility states that all projects must be “suitably appraised” before their procurement phase, and the authority did not respond to multiple questions about whether appraisals or business cases were conducted on the project.
Water Authority officials and legislator Juliana O’Connor-Connolly – one of the Brac’s MLAs and the minister whose portfolio includes the Water Authority – both declined interview requests for this story.