Another year, another developing water crisis.
It’s now virtually predictable that scores of households and farmers will suffer from dry taps, as the not-so-rainy season begins this weekend.
There’s been sweltering heat and little rain.
Today’s overcast skies and intermittent showers were deceptively promising but won’t go anywhere to washing away this current drought.
The Barbados Water Authority has warned the parishes of St Michael, St James, St Joseph, St John, St George, St Andrew, and St Thomas to store water and brace for low pressure and possible outages.
That’s because reservoirs at Golden Ridge, Lodge Hill and Fort George are very low, while reservoirs at Castle Grant and Shop Hill are exhausted.
Since May 3, the BWA introduced nightly shutoffs for customers in parts of St George, St Thomas and St John to allow the Golden Ridge reservoir to recover overnight and for longer hours of pumping to Castle Grant during the daytime.
But the situation has not improved, amid households’ mounting frustration. The lack of water severely affects our quality of life and our farmers’ food production. And who wants to pay a monthly water bill when the tap is dry?
From all indications, though, water won’t be flowing in abundance anytime soon.
The forecast issued today by the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology and reported on elsewhere in today’s edition provides no comfort.
In its latest Caribbean Climate Outlooks publication, the CIMH cautioned that despite the approaching start of the wet season on June 1, the region will continue to feel the effect of the present drought through June and August.
“Drought [conditions] are expected to continue into the wet season in areas currently affected, as weak El Niño conditions and less than the usual rainfall is forecast to persist throughout the season,” it said.
But forget the lack of rainfall for a moment. We have already been warned that climate change will result in such weather extremes.
But even before we grappled with the impact of climate change, our finite groundwater resources have fast been running out.
Barbados has for decades been deemed one of the world’s most water-scarce countries in the world by the World Resources Institute.
Just this week, Minister of Water Resources Wilfred Abrahams told the nation that 60 per cent of the water pumped by the BWA is “unaccounted for.”
Add to this, the troubling state of our existing water infrastructure.
Said Abrahams: “We are having water issues in Barbados. It is not simply a matter of pumping. We are dealing with ageing infrastructure. The bulk of our mains are in excess of 150 years old and… they break and burst all the time.”
Then came the whopper — it will cost $2.5 billion to relay the 2,500 kilometres of water mains.
So Barbados has to find a way to adapt to a water-scarce existence and we may need outside expertise and funding to do it, because we simply don’t have the resources.
Sure, the BWA has said it would tackle the problem by addressing leaks, illegal connections, the introduction of more efficient meters, and a programme for households to buy water tanks.
All these initiatives are on the right track but we have to go further, for water is life.
Therefore, our perennial water woes must become a national security, development, health, social and economic priority.
We need a long-term strategic plan that speaks to effective and efficient harvesting of water; the best conservation methods, alternative sources including desalination and atmospheric water generation, and more.
In the meantime, households need not wait for the pending water restrictions. We must stop the abuse.
In sum, we are running out of water, so we need to conserve every drop by using it more efficiently, recycling and capturing more rainwater when it comes.
We believe we are on the cusp of the biggest economic and infrastructural ‘moon shot’ of this century. Our survival depends on reaching the proverbial moon.