Caribbean Water Deficit Amid Drought

To mention the Caribbean is to conjure up images of sun, sand and turquoise blue sea. Yet the island region’s reputation for crystalline blue waters washes over a critical problem for many of its 30 territories: water scarcity. With an estimated population of 8.2 million throughout the Caribbean islands, together with a large number of visitors, the decline in available water has resulted in the need to conserve water and explore alternative supplies.

Caribbean countries have been implementing various measures to control the use of water as the region experiences a prolonged drought.

From Trinidad and Tobago in the south, to Jamaica in the north, governments and the various utility companies have announced stringent measures ranging from a ban on watering lawns, to washing vehicles as a means of dealing with the low volume of water in reservoirs as a result of the reduced rainfall.

In Trinidad, water police officers have also been deployed to ensure that consumers adhere to the new measures, while in Jamaica, water rationing has become the order of the day.

The Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) has become the latest Caribbean country to announce plans for water rationing system until there is a significant increase in rainfall. ‘As Antigua and Barbuda enters further into a drought, APUA has seen a depletion of the surface water resources that it relies heavily on’, it said in a statement. The APUA has announced that consumers will be supplied with water at scheduled times throughout the day.

Salinisation of fresh groundwater is yet another concern for Caribbean islands. Both Antigua and Barbuda are small islands. Their well fields are close to the coast, hence the salinisation of this resource (by over exploitation or rising sea levels) is a major concern.

The National Office of Disaster Services said that on average Antigua and Barbuda goes through a period of low rainfall every three to four years. It added that in the last 134 years since 1874, the country has experienced 36 occurrences of drought.

In Guyana, Head of the Presidential Secretariat (HPS), Dr. Roger Luncheon said that the authorities are monitoring closely the current drought-like conditions. He said that the use of water would have to be voluntarily reduced and involuntarily in some areas, especially if the situation is prolonged.

Programme Director at the St. Lucia-based Caribbean Environmental Health Institute Professor Christopher Cox says sea level rise and salinisation is a concern in other parts of the Caribbean as well. He stated, “We know in The Barbados and in St. Kits that the coastal aquifers, where you have over-abstraction, it sucks up the salt water component into the fresh water so the fresh water sits on top of the salt water”.

Cox also pointed to problems with water availability in rural areas of St. Lucia, Jamaica and Trinidad. Cox said combining these situations with the climate change issues, where it is being forecast that the Caribbean region, particularly the Eastern Caribbean, could see declines in average annual rainfall by between 30-50 percent, the dry seasons will become more intense and result in problems with water supply. Some islands, such as Curacao and Aruba, simply lack decent rainfall.

Hard as it might be to believe, water-related risks in picture-postcard Caribbean islands such as Saint Lucia, Barbados, Antigua and Jamaica compare to those in Western Sahara and parts of the Middle East, according to the World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct rankings.

Desalination is not new to the Caribbean, but extracting clean water from seawater is becoming an increasingly integral part of the region’s search for water security. Since 2007, 68 new desalination plants have been built across the Caribbean, which now boasts an installed capacity of 782,000 cubic meters of purified water per day, according to the Caribbean Desalination Association.

Desalination isn’t without its challenges, however. By far the biggest and most obvious relates to energy consumption. Huge amounts of power are required to operate commercial-scale desalination – power that is often produced by importing expensive fossil fuels.

Alongside its dependency on expensive – not to mention carbon-intensive – power supply, environmentalists have raised concerns over the impacts of large-scale desalination on marine life. In particular, open intakes of seawater can cause fish and other larger organisms to become trapped.

CaribDA’s Thompson admits that desalination is no panacea. Ideally it should constitute only “one choice out of a number of options”, he says, and not necessarily the top one either. However, while desalination may be expensive and energy-intensive then some options, desalination remains the crucial answer to freshwater access in regions with heavy dry seasons.

A report in June 19, 2015, from San Juan, Puerto Rico stated the worst drought in five years was creeping across the Caribbean, prompting officials around the region to brace for a bone dry summer. From Puerto Rico to Cuba to the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia, crops were withering, reservoirs were drying up and cattle were dying while forecasters worry that the situation could only get worse.

In 2015, Puerto Rico was among the Caribbean islands worst hit by the water shortage, with more than 1.5 million people affected by the drought, reported the U.S. National Drought Mitigation Centre. Tens of thousands of people received water only every third day under strict rationing, which was imposed by the island government. During June 2015, Puerto Rico activated its National Guard troops to help distribute water and approved a resolution to impose fines on people and businesses for improper water use.

Arctic Blue Waters Alaska inc. had entered into a long-term bulk water supply agreement with Dominica Water and Sewage (DOWASCO), a crown corporation of the Government of Dominica. It is the intent of the company to renew that contract. The island of Dominica, known as the nature isle, still boasts an abundance of good quality fresh water, with loading facilities for bulk water tankers.

Arctic Blue Waters Alaska inc., now welcomes the opportunity to work with Caribbean island utility companies and island governments to provide a secure supply of pure drinking water as an alternative to desalination and local ground water supplies.