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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Water a national priority

DR FRANCES CHANDLER, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Water a national priority

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IT’S BEEN SAID that in the 21st century, it won’t be shortage of fuel that will be the world’s biggest problem, but shortage of water and food.

As should be clear by now, we’re facing extreme drought conditions. I believe it was reported that our last “wet” season was one of the driest on record, and to date there seems to be no sign of rain. At the same time several districts have been experiencing severe water outages. But this problem can’t be blamed solely on the drought.

In an interview on VOB [Voice of Barbados] recently, Dr Adrian Cashman, senior lecturer in water resources management with CERMES, UWI, Cave Hill, indicated that satisfying ourselves today without having regard for tomorrow can have serious consequences. He went to on to say that it’s not only how much water there is but the efficiency and effectiveness with which we use it – the management system, the infrastructure, the finance, the charges for water and so on.

We’ve repeatedly been told that we lose about 60 per cent of our pumped potable water to leaks in our ancient mains, but we’ve waited until the situation is critical to take any significant action. It’s alleged that 48 million dollars was earmarked for fixing leaks since 1986, and I seem to recall numerous references made to loans for this purpose since about 2003. Yet nothing significant has happened until just recently. The day of reckoning had to come. Hopefully, we’re at last taking this situation seriously and won’t drag our feet until it becomes even more critical.

Farmers in some areas are seeing much lower water levels in their wells and have had to curtail irrigation, rainwater catchments are dry and I’ve certainly noticed a decrease in fresh produce in supermarkets in recent times. Of course, those who don’t support our local agriculture will say it doesn’t matter – we can import. But little do they realise that California, the source of a large percentage of our imported produce, is suffering the same difficulties, only on a much larger scale. As of April 19, 25 per cent of the state is under severe drought, 28 per cent under extreme drought, and 21 per cent under exceptional drought. (

Climate scientists say California faces decades more of record drought and needs more than 11 trillion gallons of water just to catch up with its current deficit. That means it could rain an inch of water every day on San Francisco and Oakland for 13 years and they still wouldn’t have that much water. (

An NBC Investigative Unit visited Israel to see how they approached a similar crisis they experienced 10 years ago. They learned that Israel now treats water as a national security issue on par with terrorism. Consequently, Israel now produces 20 per cent more water than it consumes currently.

On the other hand, Barbados, and California, it seems, have not until now, treated water as a priority and don’t have a sustainable water supply. Furthermore, Barbadians seem to think water is a God-given right and they can waste it if they care to.

 Barbados and California need to take a leaf out of Israel’s book and implement an aggressive strategy to water management. They adopted advanced water recycling for agriculture, emphasised efficient irrigation techniques, encouraged rain catchment systems at schools and on other buildings, and aggressively began building and bringing on line desalination plants. That strategy, coupled with conservation and advanced leak detection, created a system that now can withstand years of drought. As one farmer who grows crops in the Negev Desert put it, “I don’t really care if it rains anymore.”

In Israel, there are five desalination plants compared to one in California, 86 per cent of waste water is recycled, 70 per cent of crops are drip irrigated and 60 per cent of drinking water is from desalination.

Since agriculture is a large user of water, we also need to modify our choice of crops to suit our water resources – particularly horticultural crops used in landscaping hotels as well as private homes. It’s evident which ornamentals are surviving (if not thriving) under the present conditions.

If we take all these measures seriously, as well as considering an increase in the price of water for household use which at the moment is ridiculously low, we may be able to achieve sustainability in the future.