About half the water that is pumped into the distribution network never makes it to consumers’ homes, a water resource management expert has charged. And Director of the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) Dr Adrian Cashman said the regular water outages experienced in various districts across the island can be resolved if the authorities control the amount the precious commodity that goes to waste daily.
“The Barbados Water Authority currently pumps about 30 million gallons per day of water into its distribution network but only just over half of that reaches the consumers . . . indeed, bringing non-revenue water (leaks and bursts) from the currently estimated 49 per cent to an industry best practice of less than ten per cent would not only solve the current supply problems but would also present significant cost savings in energy costs to the water utility in the long term,” Cashman concluded.
The university lecturer called for a comprehensive management plan to address the water woes, which include reuse and water harvesting, hinting that desalination was a costly option.
Minister of Water Resource Management Dr David Estwick recently announced plans to build two desalination plants as the long-term solution to the vexing water shortages.
But Cashman, who is also a senior lecturer of water resource management at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, said there were several other possibilities.
“The current water situation in Barbados is an opportunity to support long needed changes in how our water is managed. However, to achieve this we need a thorough understanding of the problems to be able to look for long-term sustainable solutions rather than short-term, costly fixes,” he argued.
He proposed the reuse of water from both the Bridgetown and south coast sewerage projects, noting that together they treat over four million gallons of water a day (MGD) which is discharged into the sea, and that there are plans for an additional four million gallons upon completion of the west coast project.
“That’s eight MGD of potentially available water that could be treated and re-used directly for non-potable purposes or indirectly reused by groundwater recharge,” the CERMES director suggested.
He also recommended incentives to homeowners and farmers to encourage them to harvest rainwater for secondary use and properly maintained “suckwells” in order to maximize groundwater recharge.
Cashman also argued that Barbados was at fault for its currents water shortages, having failed to heed several warnings, including predictions of a prolonged drought.
“There is not much we can do about the rainfall. The rainfall last year was about half of what we normally get. We were told it was going to be below normal, but was anything done about that warning? We are told that we should expect the below average rainfall situation to continue this year – we will be forced by circumstances to sit up and take notice. So we are going to have to get by with much less,” he cautioned.
The water resource management expert said a comprehensive integrated water resources management plan was urgently needed, stressing that national economic development should not be compromised by the lack of access to freshwater.
He said while such a plan would not provide immediate comfort to the people in the northern and eastern parishes who have been experiencing regular water outages, “if properly developed and implemented, we can at least ensure that they never again suffer the same level of inconvenience and indignity”.