A top official of Ionics Freshwater Limited is concerned that too much water is being wasted and suggests that before Government proceeds with construction of two “expensive” desalination plants in the north of the island, it should fix its aging pipeline system as priority number one.
“We need to look at fixing the pipelines first, because, why would you spend all that money to produce water and then lose half of it? That to me is not good public policy or best use of the country’s assets,” warned director David Staples.
He also suggested that the plan announced earlier this month by Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick to construct two new desalination plants in St Peter and St Lucy was both premature and costly.
“Sure desalination may be the answer, but it is likely that it is a little further down the road when we have exhausted the other options, when we have fixed the pipes, conserved the water, perhaps priced the water to a point where people appreciate it a little bit more, and it may be a great option, but sea water is very expensive,” he explained.
Pointing out that the country was losing between 40 and 60 per cent of water through what was classified as “accounted for water”, Staples said there was need for a greater appreciation of the commodity locally.
“We all are very wasteful of water. If you think about it, the average person’s cell phone bill is probably two to three times their water bill . . . it [water] is underappreciated and it is probably undervalued.
“If you look at what people would be willing to pay for it when they don’t have it, if they have to buy water in bottles that is a good indicator,” he said.
However, Staples made it clear that he was not suggesting any increase in water rates.
“That would have to be a political decision. That is a regulatory decision. No one has elected me to run anything. So I am not going to comment on that. But what I will [say] is that the value of water is underappreciated. I think people really don’t [appreciate it] until you live in St Andrew and you don’t have any water,” he stressed.
Staples, whose company operates the brackish water desalination plant located on Spring Garden, St Michael, treats in excess of seven million gallons of water per day, which it then sells to the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) under a special agreement.
He suggested that the island’s water services would better be administered through a public/private sector partnership.
“So the commercial risk, the technical risk and the financial risk is transferred to the private sector entity and not to the Government. So they have the opportunity there to transfer those risks and all those risks have costs associated with them,” he said.
“Different entities do some things better. The Government is very good at raising money and good at deciding if health should get this, education should get this. They sit there and by and large make good decisions and they are pretty good at regulating.
“The water authority has done a great job, but the challenge is the ability to raise capital and manage capitals, . . . but the day-to-day management . . . that is not their forte,”