Businesses are up in arms against the planned chemical monitoring of all public water systems because of the huge cost it entails especially at this time when profits are down due to economic slowdown.
Establishments in the CNMI may have to pay a minimum of $10,000 for each wellhead covering the three-year period (1999-2001) as part of the monitoring requirements of the Safe Drinking Water program put in place by the Division of Environmental Quality. The cost of analysis for one set of samples is approximately $2,700. But the baseline monitoring requirements are for four consecutive quarters.
In a bid to stop DEQ from conducting such tests, businesses said they will form a coalition and collectively question before the court the legality of holding such chemical monitoring.
“If they do not listen to our concern, we will file a lawsuit,” said Man-Soo Song, president of Western Pacific Ent., Inc., whose company operates several commercial spaces for rent in Garapan.
All of the establishments in Garapan do not get water from the Commonwealth Utilities Corp., thus, they maintain their own system. “We are talking big amount of money and it is simply too much,” he said.
Business that may be affected by this new requirement must challenge the legality of imposing such fee in court, said Efrain F. Camacho, owner of EFC, a construction firm.
While he is not against DEQ’s effort to ensure clean water for the local people, Mr. Camacho said DEQ should be required to show where the money would go. “Government agencies should not be profiting off of permit fees or trying to replenish their coffers with what appears to be a hidden tax,” he said.
Dave Igitol, general manager of Tasi Tours, said DEQ should be spending for the testings because it is the agency’s job to monitor the water quality . “I am not against the monitoring per se but the timing of imposing this cost to us is very bad considering the decline of the island’s economy,” he said.
Joe Ayuyu, owner of McDonald’s Saipan, said DEQ should sit down again with businesses to find ways on how to reduce the cost. He said most businessmen are weighing the option of connecting to CUC and get rid of their own water systems.
“We want to comply with the regulation but we want to have a say on the pricing. Maybe businesses can participate in choosing the company for the testing,” he said.
According to former Lt. Gov. Pete A. Tenorio, who works as consultant for various businesses in Saipan, DEQ should begin planning to establish its own local laboratory in the CNMI to help reduce the cost in conducting the water analysis.
Mr. Tenorio said the CNMI government should do its share in protecting the businesses from the unreasonable requirements imposed by agencies. “We don’t need to monitor all these businesses when they are all gone,” he said.
He said the CNMI government must negotiate with the federal authorities on how to eliminate some of the analysis for certain chemicals since he believes that they are not needed. “They are not natural in our water, in our ocean and in our rocks. If they are not really found here, then there is no need to conduct these types of analysis,” he said.
The Commonwealth Utilities Corp. may have to pay $1 million to $2 million for the analysis of its water system.
During a meeting with businesses on Friday, DEQ explained that the shipment of the samples ate up the huge cost of the monitoring. “We understand that businesses are concerned at the cost of the test considering the state of the economy but we are just trying to meet the regulations,” said DEQ Director Ike Cabrera.
Samples will be shipped to a laboratory in California for analysis since the DEQ laboratory is not equipped to conduct analysis on pesticide and other industrial chemicals.
In 1991 and 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency promulgated regulations that require most water systems to monitor on a regular basis the presence of a large number of chemicals.
DEQ would be analyzing in water the presence of some 84 organic and 15 inorganic chemicals as well as a number of radionuclides. Every water system that has its own well or surface water source will be monitored.
“I want to make sure that there will be no short-cuts in analyzing the drinking water because it is everybody’s concern. We want to make sure that we are serving the whole community safe drinking water,” Mr. Cabrera said.
DEQ would have to monitor for four consecutive quarters these organic chemicals with the first two quarters at each wellhead and the second two quarters at the point-of-entry to the distribution system. These chemicals can lead to long term and chronic health problems.
The CNMI has delayed the implementation of the program which should have started in 1993-1995, due to lack of manpower and technical expertise to carry out very complex regulations.
Mr. David Schmidt, who came from EPA Region 9 in California, was hired to help assist DEQ in making sure that the CNMI’s Drinking Water Program is at par with all the other 50 states.