Barbados currently has some of the lowest water rates in the world, but Barbadians tend to take the supply for granted and the ageing infrastructure of the water system only exacerbates the situation.
Minister of Energy and Water Resources, Wilfred Abrahams, made this point as he introduced the Utilities (Amendment) Bill 2019 to the House of Assembly today to facilitate the introduction of new water rates for commercial consumers.
Citing a recent report, he said, “A regional water tariff comparative analysis looking at the cost of a cubic metre of water, in US dollars, shows that the rate in the Bahamas is $5.50 per cubic metre; in the US Virgin Islands it is $6.18, Cayman Islands $4.38, Antigua $4.07, and in Jamaica, it is $2.88. Barbados’ domestic rate is $2.33, so we have one of the lowest rates in the Caribbean for domestic water rates and indeed the world, and the commercial rate was even lower than that.”
According to the Minister and Member of Parliament for Christ Church East, “As a result, people using the most water were paying the least for it with no incentive to conserve, which meant that the Barbados Water Authority was in a perilous position, where it had $60 million in outstanding arrears, the bulk of it from commercial customers.”
Beyond that, the ageing infrastructure of the water mains and issues with the capacity of the island’s reservoirs were major problems which would take a significant amount of time and money to resolve. Abrahams stated, “Our water mains are over 150 years old so they break and burst all the time. Barbados has 2500 kilometres of water mains, and the estimate to re-lay those mains is over one million dollars per kilometre, so if we were to change all the mains, you are looking at $2.5 billion at today’s costs. Our reservoir network is also ageing and needs rebuilding.”
He called on Barbadians, but particularly larger operations, to consider the installation of water-saving devices, especially since we were currently facing a drought. “While we want people to conserve water and we see notices about this, the reality is apart from the penalties which are seldom enforced, we do not mandate the use of water-saving devices, especially in the commercial sector. It is standard in other countries for public buildings to have water saving devices, but these are seldom seen in Barbados.”
He noted while his ministry was speaking to business owners on the south coast of the island recently, he asked a hotel proprietor why there were no water-saving devices at his property, and was told that it was cheaper to pay the water bill at its current rate than to install the equipment.
Abrahams also expressed concern that the potable water was used for virtually everything including irrigation and flushing toilets, which further depleted a limited water supply. Therefore, he proposed that Barbados adopt a model followed by other countries and create a tertiary treatment sewerage facility, where some of the water passing through the system would eventually be potable, but other water that was not fully processed could be used for ancillary purposes.