Wastewater reuse a hard sell in the Caribbean
WITH THE Caribbean facing water security challenges due in part to climate change, the reuse of treated wastewater has emerged as one possible solution, but getting public buy-in is proving a mammoth task.
It has been equally difficult to get in place institutional and legislative arrangements, together with public-private sector partnerships and appropriate enforcement, for the viability of wastewater treatment and reuse within countries.
Such is the information from the Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (CReW) project that is being implemented by the Inter-American Development Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The CReW, financed through the Global Environment Facility, is intended to help countries:
establish innovative mechanisms for cost-effective and sustainable financing of wastewater management in the region;
facilitate policy discussions and strengthen legislative frameworks; and
facilitate regional dialogue and knowledge exchange on wastewater.
They are to make that happen, beginning in four countries - Jamaica, Guyana, Belize, and Trinidad and Tobago - but the progress has been slow.
"If we are dealing with enacting regulations, drafting regulations and we have social [and] political issues, sometimes we have to take time. We cannot push too much because we risk a break and that is no good," Acting Project Coordinator Alfredo Coello Vazquez told The Gleaner at the recent Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association Conference in The Bahamas.
Meanwhile, research would seem to support the CReW in their efforts.
At the sixth Caribbean Environmental Forum and Exhibition in 2012, former Project Coordinator Denise Forrest revealed the primary source of land-based sources of marine pollution to be wastewater from, among other things, domestic sewage; oil refineries; sugar factories and distilleries; as well as food processing and beverage manufacturing.
At the same time, she said, up to 85 per cent of wastewater entering Caribbean waters is untreated.
Now to help companies see the value of investing in wastewater treatment, Christopher Corbin, programme officer with the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation at UNEP, said CReW will do a small resource valuation study.
The plan, he noted, is to use Panama and Trinidad and Tobago as the cases.
"We are trying to make a more economic case for why you should have investments in wastewater and it is linking it to issues like education, economic development, sustainable tourism, and private sector investment. So it is making a case that wastewater is not simply money that you spend without any possibility of return," explained Corbin, who said the study is to cost some US$200,000.
The hope is to have it completed by mid next year.
They are also looking to influence public perception, with a planned demonstration project designed to establish wastewater as a resource and workable option for helping to solve the region's water woes.
That effort, Corbin said, is being made through collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation.
"And it is very timely now because of the situation with the drought, especially in many islands of the Caribbean. This could be seen as a viable alternative to using potable water for irrigation purposes," he said.