27 Aug 2013

Port Moresby forced to ration water until at least November

5:10 pm on 27 August 2013

The main water supply of the Papua New Guinea capital will be strictly rationed until November, when rain is forecast to refill Sirinumu Dam.

The dam, which supplies water and power to Port Moresby, is at critically low levels - it's the middle of the dry season and there has been little rain in the past few months.

Mary Baines reports:

The chief operating officer of the city's water supplier utility Eda Ranu, Fifiaia Matainho, is hoping for rain before November.

"FIFIAIA MATAINHO: If you are asking for whether we have any immediate back-up plan, basically none. We don't have any treatment plant elsewhere that we can rely on, or water supply system elsewhere we can rely on, so we just really have to tighten up on the use of water now."

While Sirinumu Dam is critically low, Eda Ranu has also had to close its main water clarification plant for cleaning - which means much smaller plants are catering to the whole city. Dr Fifiaia says the two events coinciding is bad luck. He says water to the city has been drastically reduced - residents are being advised to use water for cooking and drinking only. Through a valve system water is turned off for hours at a time.

FIFIAIA MATAINHO: We are doing some valving - we open and then we shut at other areas. We are mindful that the community need water but we coordinate by valving along the pipeline in various zones. We have actually zoned the city into a number of areas so that we can already advise the public on the various times that they can use the water and when the water in that location will be off for a couple of hours.

Dr Fifiaia says Eda Ranu is looking to upsize its treatment plant and build another dam so something like this doesn't happen again. He says it is also searching for illegal connections and water running from open-ended pipes, which account for more than 40 percent of the city's water usage. Sirinumu Dam is also used to generate power for Port Moresby. But the acting chief operating officer of PNG Power, John Tangitban, says power to the city is not yet threatened, as the dam is still at 64 percent capacity. He says when the dam gets below 50 percent, water will take precedence over power.

JOHN TANGITBAN: When we go past 50 percent on the dam level, we restrict the volume of power supply to what the city water supply water requirements are. So in that way, the city gets the maximum water supply but we ration the power directly.

Mr Tangitban says PNG Power has leased back-up power generators just in case. Our correspondent, Todagia Kelola, says with the restrictions in place, the water should last until November.

TODAGIA KELOLA: A more accurate forecast of the weather will be made early next month, depending on whether it's an El Nino, which is dry, or La Nina which is wet sets in. And the Weather Office also stated that the dry season experienced in Port Moresby is a normal weather pattern for the area and nothing out of the ordinary.

Todagia Kelola says the public is concerned with the situation and adapting to the water restrictions.