EDITORIAL: Conserving water still key
BARBADOS IS IN the midst of a dry spell. The naked eye can see how brown the fields are and how parched the earth is all around. And, ominously, the meteorologists and climatologists are not forecasting an abundance of rain any time soon. A grave situation indeed.
This country is a water-scarce nation, but economic and social realities dictate the necessity of an ever-rising quantity of water to meet increasing lifestyle demands and for its manufacturing and agricultural sectors. The outlook is bleak.
Water usage in Barbados has changed dramatically over the past 40 years with the construction of extensive hotel plant that requires a consistent and adequate supply of water around the clock. As part of their disaster recovery plans, hotels must have a backup water supply as a priority to satisfy their customers. Hopefully, in any extended drought they will not be totally at the mercy of the BWA.
Then there is upgraded and expanded housing stock, with indoor water-borne facilities now the norm. The quantity of water per household would therefore have increased exponentially in recent years, given not only the access to indoor plumbing but a lifestyle which will drive up water usage. Yet another demand on the limited supply of water.
Our food crop and livestock farmers will need more water during the dry spell than when it rains, and many of them, particularly small scale farmers, do not have access to irrigation wells. The dry spell is also coupled with an increase in bush and grass fires that create more headaches for farmers.
These scenarios should be well known to most adult Barbadians. But the experiences caused by the dry spells and the hardships encountered by many households and businesses as a result of low water pressure or no water at all have, unfortunately, not served as a call to action.
Meanwhile, the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) is undertaking a major mains replacement programme islandwide to try and remedy the high water seepage from old, inefficient lines. This multimillion-dollar project is critical if only because no one can accurately pinpoint how much water is being lost. It is clearly staggering and scandalous.
A drought will therefore only make a bad situation worse. The island’s reservoirs can easily be depleted despite the network of pumping stations. And although the island is fortunate to have a good, clean source of underground water, this cannot be complemented by that from rivers as happens in many other countries. Neither is desalination a cheap option.
Clearly, conservation of water, in times of plenty and during the drought, should always be a priority. But it has not been so. Most Barbadians do not have a backup water tank. The attitude is that the water will always flow and if it doesn’t, the BWA can always be blamed.