CUC board asks Torres to declare water emergency


A decision is expected from the administration of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres today after the board of directors of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. sent out a request to declare an emergency on Saipan’s water situation.

In an interview, Torres told Saipan Tribune that he will be meeting with the CUC board over the weekend to discuss the request they sent to his office and will be deciding on it today.

If approved, it will be the first time that such an emergency will be declared on Saipan’s water situation.

Torres said he will “bring the board in, find out what exactly they need, what is their goal.”

Asked what it would mean once an emergency is declared, “We’re going to find out, what is the declaration that they have, what the declaration entails and what is their solution,” Torres told Saipan Tribune.

The CUC board voted to pass a motion to “request from the Governor’s Office to make an emergency declaration as a result of the cost to address the state of the water infrastructure on Saipan and the financial inability of CUC to fund that cost which gives CUC the eminent inability to provide adequate, 24-hour water supply for the residents of Saipan that affects the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Saipan.”

CUC board vice chair Eric San Nicolas made the motion immediately after coming out of their three-hour long executive session on Friday. The rest of the board members, except director David Sablan who was absent at the time, voted to approve the motion.

CUC board meetings as early as March included discussion on declaring a state of emergency and creating an action plan for water.

An operations committee meeting was held just last March 31, attended by a quorum of board members, to discuss the water situation after Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog expressed to the board his interests in having a plan in place.

“If they need to declare a state of emergency, they will but they can’t make that decision because we’re sending out two different messages,” San Nicolas said during the board’s third day of meeting last month, stressing the need to have a plan and a consolidated message to the public with regards to the water issue.

Funding issue

Asked why there was a need to request for an emergency declaration, CUC board chair Adelina Roberto said simply, “Because we have water problems.”

“We don’t have the money, we got problems with water,” Roberto told Saipan Tribune.

Earlier board meetings also held discussions to re-prioritize current grant funds awarded to CUC to address current pressing issues with the water division.

These grant money, most of which come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which allocates about $6 million per year, are already set for specific priority projects.

Although CUC determined that changes to the priority listing can be made with the approval of the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, Saipan Tribune learned that there are criteria to be followed when determining grant projects for EPA funds.

It is not yet clear if declaring an emergency will allow for grant money to be used for non-priority listed projects or if CUC can circumvent procurement rules.

Getting worse

While CUC is currently down to about 73 percent of the island having access to 24-hour water from as high as 96 percent last December, it is marginally better than in 2008 when only 60 percent of Saipan’s population was enjoying 24-hour water.

This was an improvement from 2006 and 2007 when only 26 and 54 percent of Saipan, respectively, had 24-hour water.

When pushed why is it only now that they are requesting to declare an emergency when the water situation has always had problems, Roberto said “it’s getting worse.”

“It’s getting worse and we’re running out of money to address the issues that we need to address to make it better,” Roberto said.

Acting executive director Gary Camacho echoed the sentiment by stressing that the system is just “old” and that there is an anticipated increase in demand.

“It’s much older today than it has ever been, obviously. It’s an old system,” Camacho told Saipan Tribune.

“We have an increased demand that we anticipate with the development and the board is trying to be proactive,” he added.

Roberto said they hope to get some funding with an emergency being declared.

“We’re hoping that this would get us get the executive to give us some funds. That’s where we’re headed, Roberto said.

“We’re just requesting because that would take care of our immediate need for funding and to arrange…make necessary payment,” she added.

Camacho said the management supports the decision of the board.

“The decision was based on information provided by management particularly the water division,” Camacho said, “Obviously there are issues with 70 percent unaccounted for water.”

Camacho said the board will communicate and discuss with the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor the scope of the declaration and the needs of CUC.

“The ideal is to get 24-hour water to the community and reliable water supply with a minimal standard level of losses,” Camacho said.

“We need some assistance for a certain amount of time and then get right back to normal,” he added.

Frauleine S. Villanueva-Dizon | Reporter
Frauleine Michelle S. Villanueva was a broadcast news producer in the Philippines before moving to the CNMI to pursue becoming a print journalist. She is interested in weather and environmental reporting but is an all-around writer. She graduated cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Journalism and was a sportswriter in the student publication.

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