The water shortage that has left tens of thousands of households in Sihanoukville without running water for the past week occurred after provincial officials decided to limit power to a water pumping facility operated by the tourist town’s privately-owned distributor, a manager at the water company said Monday.
Faced with widespread blackouts stemming from the country’s patchy power grid, officials at the state-owned Electricite du Cambodge (EdC) decided earlier this month to cut power to a pumping station operated by Anco Water Supply Co. Ltd. at the Kbal Chhay waterfall and redirect that power to households and businesses in Sihanoukville, said Ngy Sun, the manager of Anco Water Supply.
In doing so, the pumping of water from Kbal Chhay stopped, and Prek Tup Lake—a state-owned reservoir that can hold up to half a million cubic meters of water during the rainy season—quickly dried up due to high demand, Mr. Sun said.
“The water in Prek Tup [Lake] started drying up quickly when Kbal Chhay [waterfall] could not supply sufficient water because it didn’t receive enough electricity,” Mr. Sun said.
In a notice sent to customers on March 20, the provincial department of the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy (MIME), which oversees the water supply authority in Sihanoukville, made an urgent appeal for people to dig their own wells because the Prek Tup Lake was almost completely dry.
Chea Soputhy, provincial director of EdC, confirmed Monday that power had been cut to Anco’s water pumping facilities at the Kbal Chhay waterfall. However, when pressed on whether the decision to cut power had contributed to the current water shortage in Sihanoukville, Mr. Soputhy declined to comment.
While some power has been restored to Kbal Chhay, Mr. Soputhy said that provincial officials have requested that Anco Water Supply use its own diesel generator to ensure that water is pumped the 16 km to the residents of Sihanoukville.
“I requested the company to use their generator to save power for people in the city,” Mr. Soputhy said, adding that EdC had no immediate plans to increase the amount of electricity to Anco’s facilities at Kbal Chhay so that water can be pumped to Sihanoukville.
“The company makes a business, so they should pay for their own generator,” he said.
But Mr. Sun at Anco Water Supply said that the 110,000 kilowatts per month that EdC is now supplying to their facility at Kbal Chhay waterfall is not enough to operate water pumps. The company also needs to reduce costs on fuel and will, therefore, not operate its own generators to pump water to Sihanoukville, he said.
The reason for the current water shortage was EdC’s decision to limit the energy supply to the Kbal Chhay waterfall, Mr. Sun said.
“We want provincial EdC to provide sufficient power for [Anco] to supply users [with water],” he added.
Anco Brothers Co. Ltd., the parent company of Anco Water Supply, is owned by well-known businessman and CPP Senator Kok An.
Anco Brothers has the rights to import Evian mineral water and Budweiser beer into Cambodia. It also has a transmission line from Thailand to Kandal province and a 45-megawatt power plant outside Phnom Penh, according to the company’s website.
Anco signed a contract with the Preah Sihanouk provincial government in 2008 to operate a tourist park and pumping station at the Kbal Chhay waterfall, according to Prak Chanroeun, the director of MIME.
Currently, Anco sells water to the provincial government for 1,000 riel, or about $0.25 per cubic meter. The provincial department of MIME then resells that water on to users for between 1,500 and 2,000 riel, according to Mr. Chanroeun, who declined to say how much revenue the resale of water brings into provincial coffers.
“We use this revenue to pay a tax to the Ministry of Economy and Finance and also for provincial hall,” he said, declining to elaborate on how much, and where those funds were being spent.
Mr. Sun said that Anco has agreed to build two additional water pipe networks between Sihanoukville and Kbal Chhay in order to increase the amount of water it can supply the city with during the dry season.
Neither Mr. Chanroeun nor Mr. Soputhy at EdC, however, could explain how new pipelines, which are set to be finished by Friday, would solve the festering issue of there not being enough electricity to pump water to the city.
“We are focusing on the water supply issue, why are you asking me about other problems?” said Mr. Chanroeun when asked how he planned to deal with the power shortage that is preventing Anco from supplying enough water to the province’s capital city.
Without water, the residents of Sihanoukville have resorted to alternate—and much more expensive ways—to get clean water into their homes, according to Khuon Sarun, chief of Lek 4 Commune, where four businesses burned down on Sunday because fire hydrants in the area had gone dry.
“My family has been transporting water from a well 2 km outside the city by motorbike, and other families have been doing the same,” she said, adding that the 24,000 residents of her commune were without running water, and that the problem has spread throughout the city in the past week.
Provincial tourism police chief Man Tou said that about 60 percent of people living in Sihanoukville City have been affected by the water shortage.