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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Let there be water

DR FRANCES CHANDLER, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Let there be water

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I HAD SOME RESPONSES from readers to last week’s column on water as a national priority.

One was a song entitled Ah Drinking Water by Asiba. It has a catchy tune and the lyrics are very appropriate – generally “don’t waste water, conserve it, don’t take it for granted”.

This could certainly serve as part of a badly needed educational programme, an essential part of any water management strategy. I don’t know much about copyright and such things, but maybe Barbados Water Authority (BWA) could contact the owner and explore the possibilities.

An online reader seemed to agree with me but added: “However, to expect Barbados to “take a leaf” from Israel’s book without saying how that book was created is not realistic. How many billions of dollars did it take for Israel to become water-abundant?”

This is  a typical Bajan response. We look at what something will cost, without considering what the cost of doing nothing will eventually be. That being said, we seem to be able to find funds to waste on non-essentials like the elaborate Kensington Oval and a host of other edifices (including the BWA building).

 Furthermore, I doubt whether Israel implemented all the solutions overnight. They started by recognizing it was a priority – there was a major paradigm shift ten years ago in their approach to water. As one of those involved said, “water is a strategic material – almost like  a weapon”. We need to take a similar approach. Anyone interested in what Israel did should read Let There Be Water – Israel’s Solution For A Water Starved World by Seth M. Siegel.

They realised that education was important and introduced practical school projects to demonstrate the importance of water and  its conservation to  studentswho in turn educated their parents.

They stopped ignoring leaks and installed technology which would detect leaks (I understand some of this isbeing introduced here – it’s about time) and fixed leaks in a timely manner.

But while only about 30 per cent of their water was being used by households and in urban areas, about 68 per cent was being used in agriculture.

This led, not only to the use of drip irrigation on 70 per cent of farms (this shouldn’t be impossible for us since we’re already using this technology), but to the use of recycled water for irrigation. In Israel 60 per cent of the water used in agriculture is from recycled water. 

Talking about recycled water, another reader who works in the area of irrigation sent me some information from a letter he submitted to the newspaper around 2000.

The letter dealt with our declining sugar industryand our then new South Coast Sewerage Project. Seven million gallons of “treated sewage” was to be discharged daily into the ocean. Water that used to go back into the ground is now being dumped into the ocean. We have been depriving the area of the equivalent of 34 inches of water  annually spread out over the entire south coast from the Garrison to Long Beach.

In a water-scarce country, we have been getting rid of water worth almost $150 000 per day for the past 14 years – water that we should further treat and use for agriculture. The Bridgetown sewerage plant dumps 2 million gallons per day.

His proposal was to “treat it at Graeme Hall and pump it eastward along the ABC highway to St Philip where it could benefit farmers and, in particular, the growing of sugar cane”.

About 20 years ago, a pilot project was carried out at Grove Plantation, St Philip where a five-acre plot of cane was irrigated and fertilised using dripline buried beneath the cane and the fertiliser was injected directly into the irrigation.

Grove (well managed but in a dry part of the island) averaged 17 tons/acre, while the irrigated pilot plot produced 51 tons/acre, had to be cut by hand as it grew too tall for the harvester and produced slightly less the following year.

The above shows the potential that is still there. The available water, full of nutrients, can be used to irrigate 2000 acres in this manner, producing at least the equivalent of what 6000 acres now produces. It would take a team of intelligent, resourceful, innovative and, above all, honest people to work on the feasibility of a project like this”.

Maybe herein lies the problem. That and political will.

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email: [email protected]