Canadian Operators Volunteer in Hurricane Relief for Dominica

Canadian water and wastewater operators, Jason Mank, Marcel Misuraca and Glen Ketchum recently made a huge difference in the lives of the residents of Dominica. They answered the call for operators needed to assist DOWASCO, the water and wastewater authority in Dominica, after the utility was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Hurricane Maria  regarded as the worst natural disaster on record in Dominica was the tenth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, the most intense tropical cyclone worldwide of 2017and the deadliest storm of the hyperactive 2017 Atlantic hurricane season.

The hurricane reached Category 5 strength on September 18 just before making landfall on Dominica, becoming the first Category 5 hurricane on record to strike the island.

Maria wrought catastrophic damage to the entirety of Dominica, which suffered an island-wide communication blackout. Much of the housing stock and infrastructure were left beyond repair, while the island’s lush vegetation was practically eradicated. There were 31 known fatalities with dozens more individuals still missing.

For weeks in Maria’s wake, most of the island’s population suffered from flooding and lack of resources, compounded by the slow relief process. DOWASCO had recently undergone a $24m upgrade and repair to their infrastructure after a freak storm caused major damage to the island in December 2013, suffered catastrophic damage and was further hampered by the looting of its stores after the hurricane.

In conversation during the Plenary session on Disasters at the recent Caribbean Water and Wastewater conference in Guyana Bernard Ettinoffe, DOWASCO’s General Manager, communicated the need for not only equipment but also trained operators who could assist in the re-establishment of the treatment plants and distribution and collection networks to Valerie Jenkinson of World Water and Wastewater Solutions Ltd, which is headquartered in Canada but works out of a base in St Lucia in the Caribbean.

Valerie made an appeal to Robert Haller the Executive Director of the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association who immediately pledged support. At the Plenary session of their conference in Newfoundland, Walter provided time for Valerie to make a presentation which resulted in a number of operators coming forward to volunteer. Walter also offered to donate the funds from the silent auction at the conference and to pass around the hat. In total $4000.00 was raised to pay the airfares of the volunteers. This money was supplemented by a grant from the Caribbean Emergency Disaster Management Agency.

As well as C(Canadian)WWA, a big thank you is due to Ivan Rodrigues and Ian Lewis at APUA in Antigua who were kind enough to pick up and host the Canadians when they had to overnight in Antigua enroute to Dominica. Especial thanks to Daryl who picked them up at the airport, took them to their hotel then for dinner and Caribbean music that evening, He then was there at 5am to take them to the airport. Also thank you to Patricia Aquing and Alphonsus Daniel at C (Caribbean)WWA for their efforts and assistance,

Jason Mank, Marcel Misuraca and Glen Ketchum were the first contingent of operators to travel to Dominica. They volunteered two weeks of their holidays to work with DOWASCO in December. What they accomplished was an early Christmas present to the residents of Dominica.

Marcel was assigned to restoring water service to three villages. He worked with DOWASCO crews, travelling two hours each day to the work site. He describes the work as often frustrating but ultimately very rewarding as within the two weeks they were able to reconnect three villages so they had water supply. It was hard physical labour hauling and connecting pipes and equipment up and down slopes and over the debris and rocks but after a few days he was jumping over them and says he came back in better shape than when he left!

Jason and Glen worked with an individual from the Netherlands and DOWASCO personnel on getting the wastewater plant up and running. Jason describes the work they did:

“We were able to plug the main river crossing that was taken away in the storm. This gave us the ability to pump at the plant, and not be processing river water. We were also able to restore power to both the lift stations in town, and test the pumping equipment. With the plugging of the north side of the river, we could bring on and test all equipment at the plant, as well at the northern pump station. We also gave them a solution and the ability to how they can bring on the south side of the city as well.

In short, we were able to bring the WWTP back on that had not been run since the storm, and get the north and south PS up and running. We left the WWTP and the North station in Auto. We gave the DOWASCO operators a training session on the equipment operations on our last day there, but time was unfortunately not on our side (it was very brief only about 25mins). Therefore, we did not have a chance to give them any maintenance oriented training, greasing oil change schedules, etc. From what I saw while I was there, there is a high need for maintenance or they will start running into failures that could potentially stop the plant from processing waste water”.

Although all three volunteers were sometimes frustrated by the pace of work and how much more needed to be done all said they found the experience immensely satisfying and stated they would love to volunteer again in the future.

Word is awaiting from DOWASCO on timing to send a second cohort to further assist in the utility’s restoration.

Valerie Jenkinson states the goal is to set up Operator’s Without Borders, similar to Engineers without Borders and Medicins Sans Frontiers. A list of volunteers is being compiled who could be deployed in future disasters. “Canada is blessed with so much and helping our sister utilities is something we have the talent and the resources to do. Giving back to our profession in this way is deeply rewarding”.

CWWA has pledged continuing support. Any operator who would like to add their name to the volunteer list should contact Valerie at jenkinsonv@gmail.com. Likewise, we welcome utilities or suppliers that are willing to either make a donation that would be set aside for further travel costs or “lend” operators when disasters strike. If each utility or contractor pledged $500.00 there would be funds to deploy operators at a moment’s notice so we can make a real difference in the world. Funds should be sent to the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association.

Authored by Valerie Jenkinson, WWWS