“The situation that we find ourselves in now has nothing to do with the additional washing required from COVID. It is simply a case of us experiencing substantially less rainfall than we have experienced in over the last decade. We’ve had the lowest amount of rainfall for the first 3 months of the year than we’ve had since 2010. We have, basically, 29% below the 10 year average and we are now 25% below what we got last year. So the situation with the deficit at our sources – Montreal, Majorca and Dalaway – has to do primarily with the lack of rainfall.” So says Central Water and Sewage Authority boss Garth Saunders, in an exclusive Asbert News Network interview last Friday.
This prolonged dry spell, Saunders noted, is also adversely affecting other jurisdictions across the region. Media outlets in St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago vividly illustrated his point. “Dry conditions continue at this time and the prediction for this weather pattern has been forecasted well into 2020 by weather experts. This has continued to deplete our raw water supply from the traditional abstraction points within the river system as well as the John Compton Dam reservoir,” TheVoiceSLU.Com states.
An April 6 media release from the CWSA announced the agency’s water rationing strategy while bleakly warning consumers, “Rainfall is directly related to river flow and consequently to the water available for distribution by the CWSA …. Unfortunately, the prediction for the next 2 months is not good and there is a likelihood that the situation can worsen.”
This ongoing drought, though felt across the region, is most acutely suffered by island communities like the Grenadines who possess little to no natural fresh water sources.
According to the Water Chief, residents of the Grenadines access water through 4 means: rain water harvesting, ground water via wells, desalination plants and particularly on Bequia, some residents buy water from barges which are in turn supplied by the CWSA – “they go to the Grenadines and they sell water; we have no control over that because a large percentage of the costs of that water supply has to do with the freight travelling across the sea in the vessel,” CEO Saunders explained.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves acknowledged this vexing practice of price gouging in an exclusive ANN interview last Sunday. He said, “there is no doubt that people are extorting the price for water. You get complaints about that every time you get a bad crisis.” While there seems to be no immediate plans from central government to subsidize that water supply, PM Gonsalves offered residents some advice.
“It’s not a bad idea to put price control [on private trade in potable water supply] but even if you have price control and the fella decide to sell above [the controlled price], you’d have to get the evidence on both sides; you’d have to get it from the consumer that he charged so much. But a person might say, ‘listen – I buy it at that, I agree there’s price control.’
“As we see with many other vital commodities on which we have price control. Take for example cooking gas; we have a controlled price but people sell the gas for higher than that and people buy it. So these things are not amenable to solutions.”
To further boost the Bequia on island, potable water supply, plans are afoot to roll out a Ministry of Health and CWSA collaborative desalination plant at Port Elizabeth. “We about to implement another desalination plant in Bequia and we will be looking at doing one in Union Island also. There’s a plant already existing in Canouan run by the developers and I understand that they provide water, some limited amount, to persons. That’s the plan going forward. You asked about building resiliency; in this era of climate change where we’re seeing decreased amounts of rainfall it seems that the only option left for us would be desalination plants powered by solar plants but that in itself has some environmental challenges as well especially for small islands.
“Where do you dispose of the salt after you extract it and the concentration changes? You have to be concerned about the environment part of that. Those are issues we still have to look at but certainly the only option for the Grenadines is the desalination plants powered by solar power,” the CWSA’s Garth Saunders shared.
Dr. Godwin Friday told ANN, “I raised the issue in Parliament last Tuesday (April 7). That is, that the government and the CWSA must provide water for the Grenadines, especially in the COVID-19 crisis when water is needed for proper personal hygiene. The people need it and are right to call for it. The NDP’s position is that we must solve the Grenadines’ water problem once and for all. Adequate water supply piped into homes is necessary and overdue. We will provide an adequate supply of water produced through the desalination process to the people of the Grenadines. This is vital to promoting a good quality life for our people and for further economic development in the Grenadines. Water is essential and we must provide it!”
To date two non-governmental organizations, the Union Island Environmental Attackers and Sustainable Grenadines Inc, have been partnering since at least 2013 to address the issue of sustainable access to potable water in the Southern Grenadines. As such 100 thousand-gallon water storage black tanks were distributed free of costs to Union Islanders. That 100 000 gallons boost to the island’s storage capacity in 2013 was funded by the Canadian International Development Agency’s Canada Caribbean Disaster Risk Management Fund. Since then the partners have executed at least 3 other projects dedicated to “increasing water storage” on Mayreau, Canouan and Union Island. According to www.environmentalattackers.com, last year they accomplished their 4th milestone when a further 50 black tanks with 1000 gallons water storage capacity was distributed to the most needy residents on Canouan.
“To build a water tank here (Southern Grenadines) is like building a house because of that it’s cheaper for somebody to get a plastic tank instead of building a concrete tank. Building a concrete tank especially in the Southern Grenadines might cost about $50, 000 to build just the concrete tank. You have to ship in the materials from elsewhere so that carries an added cost,” Union Island Environmental Attackers founder and President Katherina Collins-Coy told ANN last Sunday. She also shared some details as to how residents qualify to be selected for the free tanks.
“We try our best to deal with those who cannot afford to buy one. So we deal with those who have, say, a family of 8 and only one person in the home is working. So it’s based on the number of persons living in the house, how much people working and all of that. When we distribute these water tanks we also call community meetings, we launch the project to inform people about what we are doing. We give a form and we check the houses to make sure the information on that survey is correct and we put a selection committee in place.” A major part of this community outreach is dedicated to training residents on rainwater harvesting best practices.
Collins-Coy also explained the impetus behind the Canouan project last year. “We went to Canouan for some site visits and we saw that some people had to water tanks at all. They just had drums or what some people would call a zimbo which is the plastic barrel that normally comes from overseas and is being sold for $50 or $60 for 1.
“It’s like some people would get a barrel and keep it to catch water, there are some people who don’t get barrels but have to buy one in order to get water. They put a piece of cloth over the barrel when the rain falls in it, they’ll take out the water that was strained through the cloth and store it in different jugs so that they could drink that same water.”
As for designing a project proposal to better address a publicly available source of potable water in her jurisdiction, the UIEA president disclosed that about 2 to 3 years ago she wrote “to 5 Cs (CARICOM Climate Change Center) so they could look at our situation in Union Island to provide us with a desalination plant however it seems as though 5 Cs work very close with the government. When I spoke to the person at 5Cs, via emails, he said they would be willing to come and have a meeting with us but that they’d also have to contact somebody from the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“So that did not get too far from there but I’m still hoping in future that we do get that desalination plant. Because while we have been increasing the water storage capacity, we also need to have access to water when the dry weather chips in, the trucks would still be able to transport water from the desalination plant.”
Cognizant of the attendant costs to “pump water” from trucks in hard to reach places, on her home island, the volunteer environmentalist is hopeful that realizing a sustainably managed, public access desalination project is not too far off. In the meantime the UIEA’s unsalaried efforts to further strengthen water storage capacity in the tri-island area continue apace though momentarily halted due to the ongoing global COVID-19 response.
Locally the government supports UIEA projects by granting duty free concessions on the imported black tanks. Additionally, official letters endorsing UIEA ventures are most times produced upon request. This leg of UIEA water resiliency thrust is being backed by the CARICOM Climate Change Center with funds provided through USAID.
“The project is already approved; we’re just waiting on the donors to release the funds. Because of the COVID situation and how it is overseas we know that some of the places are closed at this time, boats are not coming and so on. But it should not be too long from now; we hope we could have them before the rainy season.
“We would also be refurbishing wells because presently the wells are not covered, they need to be cleaned also since people normally access the wells for water, especially in the dry season, for washing and bathing and flushing toilets,” Collins-Coy said. The well repairs may be limited to Union Island for the time being but “Canouan and Mayreau would be getting additional water tanks.”
ANN understands traditionally the Southern Grenadines are not supplied by barges or boats selling water unlike Bequia. Only in the most severe of droughts is water sent down from mainland St. Vincent. Other than from rainwater harvesting residents access water from the ferries that ply their scheduled routes in the area, a commendable but not quite sustainable water supply. Mustique Island is privately managed. As such, relatively efficient systems are in place to aid in utilities service delivery.
Meanwhile on Bequia, “the Paget Farm system, if it’s really up and running the way it was thought out, can deliver water from Friendship to Moonhole on the Southern part of the island. That is possible because of the elevation that we selected for the storage tanks but the cost of the interconnectivity for the pipelines to take the water to the households and various communities was never built into the designs of the project.
“Understand that the Paget Farm desalination plant was set up by the World Bank as a pilot,” according to Herman Belmar, advisor of the Northern Grenadines Community Development Inc. – true bastions of the current water supply system on Bequia.