Media Brief by Dr David C Estwick MD.,MP, Minister Of Agriculture, Food , Fisheries and Water Resource Management on the issue of current water outages.
Water is a precious asset and Barbadians have for too long taken its availability for granted. Our water infrastructure dates back to 1865 and over the years for a period of time this country was blessed with adequate rainfall to support the a general reliable supply of potable water from ground water resources to residences and commercial interest.
This reliable supply have lured us into a false sense of security and has contributed to many people failing to accept that Barbados is a water- scarce country and thus not choosing to adopt water conservation practices at both the household and commercial levels. Based on the annual average rainfall and population density Barbados is designated the 15 most water scarce country in the world the other 14 countries are in the Middle East in the desert.
Based on rainfall over the past four years Barbados can no longer rely on rainfall/ground water for it potable water supply.
The fortitude of our people has been severely tested of late by persistent water shortages. There has been frustration, anger and intolerance and while I empathize with these emotions; it is my duty to with a level head, steady resolve and reason seek to find relief for those affected temporarily and permanently.
Whilst I recognize that nothing can adequately compensate for the sustained absence of a mains water supply which is a fundamental infrastructure of a modern society.
However, we must ask ourselves a few questions to place the present water challenges in a reasonable context.
- What are the issues facing this country in regards to water availability that contribute to intermittent and prolonged water outages?
The main factor is four years of drought. Also: very old and out dated dilapidated reservoirs, old pumps and water mains, inadequate monitoring of the distribution network and inadequate coordination of the various departments within the BWA.
- How long ago we had these issues?
In 1997, 19yrs ago, the Water Resource Management and Water loss Study was completed on Barbados. The study estimated Barbados’s renewable water resources from rainfall determined that Barbados has almost fully exploited its renewable water resources. In fact, the Study revealed that under normal rainfall conditions of 1.5m per year, (50-52 inches) of rain fall per year, Barbados’s renewable water resource in the aquifers was estimated at about 46million gallons per day and that Barbados was consuming about 45 million gallons per day out of that 46 million 19 yrs ago.
The Study also concluded that during drought conditions, water consumption in Barbados exceeded the renewable water resources. The rainfall data I provided showed that we had 4 years of drought with each year getting more arid and it does not appear that 2016 will be much better.
Additionally, that same study also determined that due to the very aged and decaying water mains, some over 120 years old, that 40-60% of the water pumped into the mains leaked right back out.
I am sure we will all agree that there has been tremendous commercial and residential development in Barbados over the past 20 years stressing a potable water supply that was already fully exploited.
Therefore, on just pure consumption alone, it means that the demand for water today cannot be no longer supported by ground water. We knew this 20 yrs ago based on the Water management and Water loss study of 1997.
These data were again supported by the FAO Study of 2006. In 2006 the FAO reported that Barbados’s renewable water resources was almost fully exploited. They said that based on Barbados’s annual rainfall of 1.5m per year that this would yield about 46 million gallon per day and that based on the consumption rate of water at that time in 2006, Barbados was consuming about 45million gallons per year. So during drought conditions Barbados was consuming more water that could be supported by the aquifers and reservoirs. This warning was again given in 2004 and 2006.
- Where is the impact of the drought most felt?
The drought conditions are more intense in the higher elevations in the north east of the country. So wells and reservoirs serving the north of the country have had a reduced pumping capacity of over 2 -2.5 million gallons per day to St Joseph, St Thomas, St Andrew, St Peter and St John and are showing strong signs of salt water intrusion. There is nothing political about this situation.