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Major Strides Forward reported by The Isle of Man Water Authority 10 October 2006

The Water Authority’s Annual Report and Accounts describes a successful year in which a number of major projects have been completed on time and within budget.

Chief Executive Patrick Heaton-Armstrong states: ‘The completion of the new Sulby Water Treatment Works was the highlight of a very good year. It was a pleasure to invite the Chief Minister to open the Sulby works in October which formed a core element of £17+ million of major works completed in the north of the Island last year.’

The new works is capable of delivering up to 21 million litres per day of treated water that will meet the very highest World Health, European Union and UK’s water quality standards. The contract was completed on time and within the £15.3 million budget by Earth Tech Engineering Ltd, assisted by their civil engineering sub-contractor, Lagan Group (IOM) Ltd.

In order to deliver its objective of ‘Crystal Clear Drinking Water for the Island’s Population’, the Authority still has many more major construction projects to complete, not least of which is the new £26.5 million Douglas Water Treatment Works, which started on site in May 2005. The Authority is once again working with the team that successfully delivered Sulby works.

Mr Heaton-Armstrong says: ‘The start of the project benefited from the dry summer in 2005, which allowed the substantial excavations required on this site, as part of the revised planning permission, to proceed without delay. The construction of the underground reinforced concrete tanks, filters, chambers and walkways progressed well over the winter period. The scheme was on time and within budget by the end of the financial year.’

The Annual Report and Accounts shows a surplus of £2.1 million for the year ended 31st March 2006 and this surplus will be used to help fund the capital works programme which is in progress and which will continue for another 15 years.

Mr Heaton-Armstrong explains: ‘The authority is making great strides but we have a major programme of capital works that must be completed. In the coming years the headline schemes such as the Water Treatment Works will be completed but we still have 1,500 kilometres (1,000 miles) of water main, pumping stations and service reservoirs, much of which will require improvement.’

In 1997 the Authority repaired 317 burst mains. By 2005/6, this was reduced to 172 repairs due to a progressive mains replacement programme which targets those mains with a high burst history. This is gradually improving the levels of service to customers.

While the overall trend of customer complaints is decreasing, well down on the 1,300 recorded in 2002-2003, the number of complaints about water quality increased from 300 in 2004-2005 to 715 last year. Most of these complaints related to discoloured water. However, the authority had to deal with a prolonged discoloured water incident in the north east of the Island in May 2005, which contributed significantly to the statistics, with Ramsey accounting for 51 per cent of the complaints. The advent of the new Douglas treatment works, and the mains rehabilitation programme which will follow, are expected to significantly reduce the number of complaints about discoloured water.

Mr Heaton-Armstrong adds: ‘The loyalty and dedication of the authority’s employees always ensures a quick response to “out of hours” emergency situations. This largely goes on unseen by the majority of the public, but without this response many people would be significantly inconvenienced by unforeseen events, such as burst mains, burst service pipes and malfunctioning pumps. Repairs are often carried out under the most testing and difficult conditions. We are a relatively small team, of 121 people, and bearing in mind that we run a 24-hour a day business seven days a week, then this level of commitment is most admirable.’

The most immediate challenge facing the authority, says Mr Heaton-Armstrong, is the completion of the new Douglas Water Treatment Works, which should have water flowing through it by 2008. However, the commitment to delivering crystal clear water continues on several fronts. These include a programme, spanning 2006 to 2009, of laying 33 kilometres of new large diameter trunk mains and the decommissioning in 2008 and 2009 of the existing Glen Maye and Ballure works, following on from the opening of the new Sulby works.

Mr Heaton-Armstrong explains: ‘The Authority will continue to maintain existing levels of service to its customers, including the quality of the Island’s drinking water. Customers should not expect immediate changes in the quality of water at the tap when the new water treatment works come on line, as the deposits that have accumulated over many years in the mains need to be cleaned out.’

Mr Heaton-Armstrong retires in November after 11 years in the post and believes he is leaving the authority in a sound position. ‘I am and always have been a water engineer, ever since I graduated from university, a career which I have enjoyed immensely and found most rewarding,’ he says. ‘I will be handing over to John Smith, who for the last eight years has been the authority’s director of operations. John knows the business extremely well and we are aiming to make the transition smooth and seamless so that business momentum is not lost and the confidence of the staff and the customers is maintained.’

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