Rota in water crisis • Prolonged dry spell blamed for drastic drop in water level

Posted on Jun 10 1999

More than 1,500 residents of Songsong on Rota have been experiencing empty faucets in the past two days following a drastic drop in the level of Water Cave, the island’s major source of potable water, according to the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation.

This is the second time the island has faced serious water crisis since last year when the cave fell to its lowest level due to the drought triggered by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Tony Reyes, CUC deputy director for Rota, said their customers are angry and have harassed employees because of the water shortage.

“We are not just receiving complaints, but even obscene calls and it’s nothing typical,” he said. “I don’t expect the people to be happy about it, they have the right to be angry about it.”

To ease the situation, CUC has filled water tanks and towed them to distribute water to Songsong homes. They have also asked residents to get their supply from nearby Sinapalo, which is receiving water 24 hours a day.

“I know that is too much a burden for the people (and they) are going to incur costs as a result of this, but that would be the immediate solution that I see at this point of time,” Reyes said.

The utility official ruled out the possibility that there might be some problems in their water distribution, although both Songsong and Sinapalo have separate water pipes.

“We are convinced that the water is dropping to a critical level in the cave (which) is the primary cause of the water situation in the Songsong village,” he said.

While some homes still get water early in the morning, Reyes said this does not last for long. “When they opened their faucet, there are locations there especially those people who are residing at a higher elevation, they just don’t have water, not even in trickle.”

There is no report how much the level in the cave has dropped, but CUC tanks on Rota have difficulty attaining normal amount of water in the past few days.

“We do have water early in the morning, but once we open the tank at 4 in the morning, we do have water for about an hour and then it will be depleted in no time,” Reyes said.

Last year, the utility corporation began water rationing on Rota when the cave shrank by 33 inches for the first time in decades.

“What is happening now happened last year,” Reyes explained. “Sinapalo and other villages are not affected because there is another line that goes back to Sinapalo.”

El Nino has been largely blamed for current water problems in the CNMI as rainfall on Saipan alone dropped to an average of 39.85 inches last year, almost half of the normal level of 79.15 inches.

The global weather phenomenon has prolonged the dry spell in the Northern Marianas which so far has not experienced its typhoon season normally occurring in the latter part of the year.

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