CNH Tours - Cultural and Natural Heritage Tours Galapagos
Thursday September 10, 2020
Potable water in Puerto Ayora: Always 3 years away
(The following article was Google translated, further edited, and slightly adapted for clarity from the original Spanish language article that appeared in the EXPRESO, an on-line newspaper on 5 September 2020. Pictures are also from the original article. Click here to see the original. CNH Tours can attest to the bad water piped into Puerto Ayora homes, as was the case with us when we lived there in 1998-2002. Like all other residents, we had no choice but to bathe using this water - it had a mild salty taste to it and you certainly did not want to swallow any...)
Puerto Ayora and its endless wait for drinking water
In Puerto Ayora, the most populated settlement in Galápagos (apx. 20,000 people), the water that reaches homes and commercial and tourist establishments is still brackish and not suitable for human consumption.
It is extracted from underground aquifers via fissures in the bedrock on this island of volcanic origin. Because the bedrock is porous and full of fissures, it ends up being a mixture of rainwater and seawater, minerals and human wastewater. The supply is limited to just two to four hours a day. Typically, all buildings have large storage tanks on the rooftops and these are filled when the water is running, so that it can be used over the course of the day.
Above: A typical fissure from which brackish / contaminated water is extracted
"The fissures in the bedrock from which the water is obtained are interconnected with the septic tanks (little more than holes in the ground) and, obviously, they become contaminated and, finally, the water that reaches the houses is not drinkable (containing bacteria, salt etc…) and we are forced to continue to buy water in bottles", explains Jairo Gusqui, president of the Citizen Board of Santa Cruz.
In a city where some 200,000 tourists spend time each year, the lack of drinking water is not just a community problem that causes intestinal infections, skin allergies or untreatable hair to its inhabitants.
The Puerto Ayora waterfront - 200,000 visitors a year
“There are visitors from abroad who are used to drinking tap water in their countries. And you have to be telling them that you can't do that here, don't drink the tap water, ”says Rubén Montalvo, owner of a hostel in Puerto Ayora.
"A tourist who ingests the water and suffers an infection stays in the hotel. He suspends his entire schedule of tours, and doesn’t spend his money," he adds.
For all these reasons, having potable water is an old claim of its 20,000 inhabitants. They are used to hearing promises of potable water each time a new election comes around, and they are getting used to having it as an eternally unfinished project.
A very typical scene in Puerto Ayora - delivery of REAL potable water
Only in this century, in 2001, the government at the time put out an international tender to provide drinking water to the main islands; that work was awarded under the following government, but it did not advance from there. The government after that took it up again, but nothing came of it.
San Cristóbal, Isabela and Floreana islands, with a smaller population, have had potable water since 2013. But not Puerto Ayora.
In 2016, the president at the time (Rafael Correa) announced that Santa Cruz was beginning to receive potable water "for the first time in its history." The project, initially planned for 2014, consisted of capturing water from nearby fissures and, through a reverse osmosis process, desalinating and making it drinkable. But he was overly optimistic and it didn't happen.
“It's a long story, it has suffered quite a few setbacks in these years: politicians who have used it as a campaign promise, lawsuits against the contractor. And it the story is not over yet ”, sums up local journalist Daniel Montalvo.
Water purification plant for preparation of potable water
In 2019, a month after taking office, Puerto Ayora Mayor Ángel Yánez published a diagnosis of how he had found the municipality, including this issue. He noted that the initial cost of US$18.5 million had risen to US$23.7 million for supplemental contracts. And that the plant was not working due to pipeline damage and that the system required the interconnection of the networks, a work not foreseen in the contract.
Yánez says he has advanced the work up to 80% and hopes to complete it. To do this, it needs the Government -which claims fiscal illiquidity and owes one billion dollars to the municipalities- to deliver 4 million dollars for the additional work.