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Water Security for the Caribbean

October 20 2014 - by Dr. David Lee, CLP's Environmental Specialist

David Boyce presented a paper at the 23rd annual Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association Conference that just concluded in the Bahamas.  His paper indicated that a study of the regional water sector undertaken by the Caribbean Development Bank showed that the Caribbean countries consumed water at the rate of 400 litres per person per day on average which is almost twice the global benchmark of 270 litres per person per day.  Trinidad and Tobago was recorded as being the Caribbean country with the greatest consumption of 800 litres per person per day. 

Boyce’s paper advocated an increase in water conservation efforts and more serious attention to be paid to the Region's aging water distribution infrastructure to cut down on leaks that contribute to “non-revenue water” along with inaccurate metering and theft.  Non-revenue water has been estimated as high as 60% in Jamaica and Guyana.

Boyce’s exhortations are certainly worth supporting as increased efficiencies in the distribution, treatment and use of water would certainly help in securing access to water for regional populations.  We also have to get smarter with the use of technologies that are available that would allow for extended use of water that we have captured.  Certainly this becomes crucial when one considers that one of the projected effects of climate change is increased drought conditions for the Caribbean.  Some of the technologies that might be worth consideration is as follows:

Increased water harvesting - most of the Caribbean depend on the water utility to capture and distribute all of the water.  In countries like Grand Cayman – water harvesting using roofs and individual storage is common place.  In other jurisdictions the proliferation of “black water tanks” is common place when water supply from the municipality is not dependable.  The capturing of water using this method may also affect the distribution of water.  Water harvested but not treated could still be used for sanitation and irrigation replacing the expensive treated potable water that comes through our pipes.  Increasing “hard areas” using concrete presents the problem of drainage and run-off management.  We could utilise storm water drains for collection if adequate storage mechanisms could be put in place.

Grey water use - Wastewater treatment technologies along with grey water (e.g. kitchen, showers, laundry water) capture could be used for irrigation.  This would free up potable water now used for irrigation of say lawns or green areas to be solely used for consumption purposes.  Treatment of sewage either at the municipality level or in situ at homes could result in water that would be fit for irrigation.  Indeed this type of treated water contains fertilizers which are good for crops.  Experiments done on some crops show a 33% increase in yield without the use of inorganic fertilizer.  Because of the social stigma associated with sewage, the treated wastewater could be used for crops to be fed to animals rather than direct consumption by humans.

Integrated Watershed Management - It is forests and watersheds that collect water that recharges our rivers and ground water.  More needs to be done to stop deforestation and to plant more trees.  It has been shown that mountains covered with mature trees are more likely to yield precipitation from rain-bearing clouds than denuded slopes.  More water is retained in soil with mature tree cover.  These watersheds act more like a sponge than a pipe.

Last but not least, microhydro power - technology has advanced that there are micro-turbines that can extract energy from pressurized pipelines.  Although this is an emerging technology and not yet fully developed it would allow water utilities to generate enough power to meet their needs and have some left over for the public grid.  Technology worth watching.

Please feel free to add to this blog if you know of any other technologies that might be worth considering.