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Earth Today | ‘Prioritise water storage solutions’

Published:Thursday | April 1, 2021 | 12:19 AM
A water storage gap in the Caribbean has prompted a call for a look at various interventions.
A water storage gap in the Caribbean has prompted a call for a look at various interventions.
The priortisation of water storage could impact access to the essential resource for many in the Caribbean.
The priortisation of water storage could impact access to the essential resource for many in the Caribbean.

A NEW perspectives paper from the Global Water Partnership – Caribbean (GWP-C) has turned the spotlight on the need for the prioritisation of water storage in the region.

The paper, titled ‘Status, Need and Role of Freshwater Storage in the Caribbean’ and authored by Anika Cole and Dr Adrian Cashman, comes against the background of the Caribbean accounting for some seven of the world’s top 36 water-stressed countries, according to 2016 Food and Agriculture Organization data. This is even as the region faces mounting climate-related water security challenges.

“The amount of water available to us is not infinite, and as the pressures of development, demographic changes and climate change become more evident, water will become an even more valuable and potentially even more scarce commodity. Within this framework, the current and future state of storage is not always highlighted,” note the authors.

“This is in part because to date, water planning timescales have been measured in years as opposed to decades, biasing short-term expediency over long-term provision. One way to think about this is by considering future trends in the available supply, consumptive demand, uncertainties and variability, and what mechanisms to cope with these factors can be put in place,” Cole and Cashman added.

They have, therefore, proposed a number of interventions – not the least of these the engagement of the private sector in the water supply-storage continuum.

“The private sector (breweries, mines, heavy industry, agriculture, power generation, hotels) many times being large consumers of freshwater resources can offer a unique viewpoint to some of the fundamental concepts. In looking at the efficiency of self-provision versus utility supply, the growing need and expectation of reliable water supplies have driven technological innovation in water treatment, storage, and conveyance that has created new opportunities to integrate reclaimed water into the private sector water systems,” they said.

municipal supply system

“In many jurisdictions, the national water utility company is the only one legally allowed to supply and sell potable water as the Caribbean has not caught up with the global trend of privatising public utilities. The exception to this is limited to few countries such as Antigua and Cayman that allows desalination plants to sell to customers. The rigidity of supply and investments has not kept up with the needs of some growing industries, many of which have chosen to implement on-site storage to allow or seamless production continuity when there are breakdowns in the municipal supply system,” the researchers added.

“Beyond on-site storage, relatively few others that have the necessary financial and technical resources have weaned themselves completely from municipal supply by having internal distribution systems and allocation rights to water sources. Total self-supply comes with legal, regulatory and financial challenges that the greater portion of smaller industries are unable to match to be profitable,” Cole and Cashman said further.

Wastewater reuse is another option they advance.

“Wastewater represents a large stock of untapped resources which, if treated and reused for secondary purposes, can lead to less reliance on freshwater resources and increased availability for storage. The challenge is the financial implications and access to affordable, innovative technology to treat wastewater to a consistently acceptable standard. There is growing interest for hotels to reuse wastewater in landscaping and golf courses and even for irrigation of cricket grounds in St Lucia,” they note.

Also needed, they said, are “strong governance arrangements on integrated storage”.

“Many long-range development strategies throughout the Caribbean have underscored the importance of water resources management and well-functioning water services. The implementation of these strategies, nevertheless, will be the challenging aspect of the process. Water governance in the Caribbean has a distinct set of multi-level challenges, including unclear policy objectives and strategies and monitoring mechanisms; as well as unpredictable investment climate,’ the researchers said.

“However, things are changing and countries are gradually starting to better integrate water sector development with future national economic development objectives. For example, Guyana in its Green State Development Strategy: Vision 2040 has recognised the need for good water governance and effective infrastructure to underpin development. This provides the start of a framework within which the role of the various forms of storage, their status, contribution to economic growth and environmental sustainability, and the future requirements are seen as an integral part of the maintenance, management and sustainability of a country’s water resources and services,” they added.