It finally happened. I remembered writing about it way back in May about the future of Brunei water and electricity. Water and electricity supplies can fail and water supplies did fail big time last week.
So, on Monday, my first day back at work, I happened to be chairing a meeting where both the head honchos of public works and electrical departments were also presentand naturally I asked about the recent water supply problem which happened during my absence. I thought with all the precaution in place, it is quite surprising that such a major disaster could have taken place. Both of them explained and from what I gather it is like the Discovery Channel's Perfect Disaster series where everything conspired against you to get the perfect disaster going.
According to the head honchos, the electrical supply to the water pumps at Bukit Barun failed. The pumps supply water to a majority of people both in Brunei and Tutong Districts. There were actually two cables, one acting is a backup. The main cable underground at Penapar had a short and the technicians had to work hard to find out where the short was and replaced that section of the cable. In the meantime the backup cable from Batu 18 Jalan Tutong also failed due to a fallen tree. This was an overhead cable and technicians quickly replaced the cable there. However when the current was routed through the newly replaced, they found out that it did not connect. The cable had to be replaced again. By the time they managed to reconnect, both the cables at Penapar and Batu 18 are linked to the water pumps.
Unfortunately it took them about 24 hours to get those cables up and running. In the meantime, everyone was using up the water supplies available at the water storage tanks dotted throughout the Brunei and Tutong Districts. The water storage tanks only stored water for about 18 hours. So the water ran out for most people who are connected to the Bukit Barun pumps. There are some who are connected to the Tasek pumps mostly in Bandar and some parts of Jalan Tutong and Jalan Gadong. They still had water. There were only 9 water tankers for about 60,000 households in Brunei District and 1 water tanker for about 15,000 households in Tutong District. The water tankers worked for a full 24 hours and still they couldn't deliver all the water that the public wanted. Emergency pipes were installed in key locations with water from Tasek pumps.
So even when electricity was connected, it still took time for the pumps to function fully as they require for the distribution pipes to be full or something like that. It took the better part of the second day before the pumps started to pump water. Even when they started, there were parts of the districts where the water couldn't get through. Air trap had built up in some parts of the pipes and the air had to be released before water could get through. Some older pipes, with the new water pressure going through, just broke and cause major problems. One house had no water for five days.
Major lessons - plenty. Cables to major installations like water pumps had to be checked regularly. It does not matter how many cables linked to it, what's important is that they all worked and can take over from another easily. Perhaps these installations should also have its own power generator. More water storage tanks had to be built. In Singapore, the system can take up to 48 hours of water failure, currently Brunei is only up to 18 hours. More water tankers had to be made available - not necessarily through purchasing more but commandering them from various agencies. Many agencies have water tankers but used them for the purposes of watering plants etc. In an emergency, there has to be a procedure for ensuring that all the tankers would be available. Emergency water supplies areas had to be readied so that the public can have access to water from those supply areas. In the meantime, it is still prudent for the public to realise that there is a real need to save water. The major lesson for all of us, water is an important life source and it is scarce. Do not waste it.