‘$200M needed to replace old water lines’

Non-revenue water loss at 61.4% in July

The Commonwealth Utilities Corp. needs between $150 million and $200 million to replace old water lines on Saipan in order to address water leaks and lower its non-revenue water loss, according to CUC executive director Gary P. Camacho.

In his report to the CUC board during last week’s meeting, Camacho said that CUC’s non-revenue water loss on Saipan in July is down to 61.4%, but the overall goal is to reduce it to 100%. In order to do that, CUC would need more funding.

“There are a number of lines out there that have to be replaced,” he said. In fact, there are water lines that are 50 years old.

And, based on some of the assessments that have been done, it could easily amount to between $150 million and $200 million, Camacho added. He underscored the importance for CUC to invest in its water system by allocating more funding.

If CUC has the amount it needs to replace old water lines, there will be “bigger, huge jumps” and quicker lowering of water loss, Camacho said.

Camacho said CUC has been working closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others in addressing the water loss problem.

He said investment in the water system is included in CUC’s five-year plan.

Camacho disclosed that they have been considering, like many utilities agencies, to get a large bond of over 30 years and “pay for this large system and make those investment.”

“We’re having hundreds of leaks, particularly now with the great pressure on the system and, with most of the waterlines now filled, that is causing a lot of pressure,” he said.

He said there is a need to have a larger investment and undertake larger projects. “That’s what we are trying to do and you will see that in our five-year plan,” Camacho said.

Camacho said they want to keep the 24-hour water supply on the island.

CUC deputy executive director William Gilmore said under new projects, they are using PVC pipes that have a lifespan of 40 years. In the U.S. mainland, the lifespan of such pipes is 100 years.

“It’s just the type of soils that we’re in,” Gilmore said, adding that they are trying to improve the bedding of the pipes because they had trouble with the quality of the installation of those pipes in the past. With the improved installation of PVC pipes, Gilmore said they expect the pipes to last longer.

Camacho believes that the recent hiring of Joseph Carlson as CUC’s chief engineer for water and wastewater would enable CUC to lower its water loss numbers.

Prior to Super Typhoon Yutu, CUC’s water loss was down to 50%. That went up to 70% after the typhoon.

When CUC board member Ike Perez pointed out that a water loss of 61.4% is still very high and not even an average, Camacho said many parts of the water system is over 50 years old.

“We are addressing those,” he said, adding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is helping CUC with the funding for this.

Camacho said CUC needs to set an internal plan to finish replacing those old system.

CUC board vice chair Weston Deleon Guerrero said he believes that non-revenue water percentage has never gone down below 50 percent in the past 15 years. He encouraged CUC to bring the current loss down to at least 50%.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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