By Mark-Alexander Pieper

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News) - Dozens of frustrated southern residents filed into the Inarajan mayor's office yesterday looking to vent those frustrations at Guam Waterworks Authority management.

GWA management, Consolidated Commission on Utilities members and lawmakers attended the special meeting, which was designed to provide southern residents with answers about why they've had so many water problems in the last few months.

Several of the residents -- from the villages of Merizo, Umatac and Inarajan -- demanded answers to their water problems.

"You are endangering our lives because when there is no water in the pipes, contamination will be there. We don't have water to wash our face, to wash our kids," yelled an irate Ben Meno, a resident of Inarajan. "We have to spend more money to boil water, we have to spend more money to buy soda and beer and drinks because we have no water. All I'm asking for is the water service we all pay for and to hell with everything else."

For the last three months, southern residents have had severe water problems just about every week and, in some cases, every other day because of problems with the Ugum Water Treatment Plant's ability to produce clean water.

GWA interim General Manager David Craddick told residents that when he joined the water agency in January, there were a number of problems, including Ugum's inability to produce water that met federal clean water standards.

Craddick said he inherited a plant that was never operated the way it was designed to and that its operators were not appropriately trained, which the agency is working to do now. He said the plant put out more water in the past during rainy season because the water didn't meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

He said not only was that a risk for the people consuming the water, but the agency is subject to $25,000 in fines for every day it provides water that doesn't meet EPA standards.

Inarajan resident Charlie Mantanona, 41, said the plant was built in a poor location because its intake is not in a place where it gets flowing water.

"The engineers that engineered that engineering engineered it the wrong way," said Mantanona, a former water treatment plant operator.

Jose S.N. Chargualaf, who also attended the public hearing on Bill 97 Monday at the Legislature, said the plant's intake is in a poor location.

"You know how to do your job, but the problem is with the river -- (the plant) is sucking in dirt and debris," Chargualaf, 63, said. "I'm just frustrated. I mean, when it started raining last night, I said, 'Oh God, I won't have my water until today.'"

Some at the meeting said the government use eminent domain to take private property along deep parts of the river, where water always flows, to expand the plant. Craddick said the suggestions were good, but would take time to implement.

As for immediate solutions, Craddick said the agency has ordered parts to get the plant's equipment to work properly, which are scheduled to arrive tomorrow. Once the parts are installed, the agency will be able to produce the two million gallons of water needed daily within two weeks.

Inarajan resident Joanne Balajadia, 44, asked CCU Chairman Simon Sanchez if there is a rebate program for people who buy water tanks.

Balajadia said she and an increasing amount of southern residents are spending hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of dollars to buy water tanks so they can brush their teeth in the morning or flush their toilets. Sanchez said it's a good idea that the commission will look into.

"I think a lot of the problems we've had has to do with the weather we've had. They all earnestly seem like they want to solve this and they're doing what they can," Balajadia said. "They told us tonight we should have these problems fixed in two weeks, so for me I'm taking a 'let's-wait-and-see' attitude."

October 1, 2003

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com


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