LAMI, FIJI - Fiji Fish Managing Director Graham Southwick needs two kinds of water to keep business running—the seawater that supplies tuna for export and freshwater for the ice that refrigerates the fish.
"Having that water running in our taps is crucial for the company," says Southwick of the 98-ton tank that provides the factory's supply of ice. "Water shortages literally shut down the factory and jeopardize our chilled fish exports."
Water shortages could also disrupt the livelihoods of some 700 workers that Southwick employs at his fish factory in Lami, a small seaside town about 10 minutes' drive from central Suva, Fiji's capital city.
Those workers include factory hands and the fishing crews behind the company's exports of yellowfin, bigeye, and albacore tuna to markets in Japan, Samoa, and the United States, as well as in Europe.
Fortunately, and thanks to Asian Development Bank (ADB) loans, those jobs now appear to be safe, with water shortages a thing of the past. The $70 million Suva–Nausori Water Supply and Sewerage Project has laid new water mains and has installed state-of-the-art computer systems at the Tamavua and Waila water treatment plants to monitor water quality and treat it.
"I must say that I have seen a major improvement in the supply of piped water to our factory over the past 6 months. We no longer experience the water cuts that used to be a regular occurrence in the past."
The Tamavua plant, which sits on the ridge overlooking Suva City and Lami Town, supplies water to Fiji Fish. But it also provides water for hundreds of other businesses in the two municipalities.
Combined, the two plants in Tamavua and the bigger one at Waila, near Nausori Town, serve some 332,000 people living in the Suva–Nausori Corridor, a large swath of the peninsula that includes the four municipalities of the capital and three towns on its periphery—Lami to the south, Nasinu at the center, and Nausori to the north.
Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) Consultant Engineer Roly Hayes says the corridor's population needs 40 million gallons of freshwater a day.
Tamavua can handle 15.9 million gallons of water a day, while the plant at Waila has a capacity of almost double that at 26.4 million gallons. As Hayes points out, that means the two plants can handle demand.
But only barely, he adds, and "at a huge cost."
About 35% of our annual budget goes to electricity use, or about $11.5 million a year."
For Hayes, the solution is for the WAF to have its own dam and not only be able to use hydropower for its water pumps but also be able to sell excess power to the Electricity Authority.
"That means we would not only save $11.5 million from not having to pay for electricity, but would be able to make some money, too," says Hayes.
In the meantime, much of the ADB funding has gone into water quality and leak detection, while contributions of the Government of Fiji have financed the laying of additional water mains for both the Tamavua and Waila plants.
Treating water with chlorine is also now computerized in both plants, a big step in killing pathogens that cause diseases, such as typhoid and polio.
But leakages remain a problem and, recently, a huge one was discovered at Kalekana Village, where many of the workers at Fiji Fish live.
Unaccounted water losses at the treatment plants still run at a very high 55%, and most of the losses are believed to be due to leakages like the one at Kalekana Village.
Rectifying this situation is essential, says Hayes, if the treatment plants are to keep up with water demand in Suva and its adjacent three towns.
"With ADB funding, we plan to purchase four sets of highly sophisticated water leak-detecting equipment," says Hayes. "When we manage to limit our losses to 25% - a normal industry standard - we will have adequate capacity for at least 15 years."
Workers at the Waila Plant need no reminder of future water needs. All around the complex, construction work has begun in earnest of what has been described as Fiji's largest ever residential project.
The Waila City housing project plans to build 5,000 homes for 25,000 people on some 700 acres of land. Two other similar housing projects are planned for the Suva-Nausori corridor.
Meanwhile, significant progress has been made in supplying current demand, as Mosese Sorovi, head of the Suvavou Village, attests.
He and the other 560 villagers at Suvavou are Suva's traditional landowners, and constant water cuts in the past forced the village council to purchase three 2,600-gallon water tanks. They are hardly used today.
"Water supply has been regular since the beginning of the year, and water cuts rarely happen these days," says Mosese. "Our wives and children no longer need to take buckets down to the main road to wait for the water trucks."
The same story applies for people living along the coast of Lami.
"I no longer need to keep an empty drum here at home to store water," says Lal Mohammed, a resident of Wailekutu, less than 2 kilometers from the Fiji Fish factory.