Friday, 23 March 2012 02:30
By Colin Sampson
Antigua St John's - Environmentalist Dr Brian Cooper has chosen World Water Day, March 22, to issue a call for the early implementation of a national water resources management plan for Antigua & Barbuda.
Dr Cooper, a board member of the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), considers a comprehensive and integrated water resources management plan an urgent national priority. He argued that the plan should include all the islands’ watershed areas, and that it should be administered by a public authority similar to a national parks authority.
While the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) has a mandate to provide potable water to the nation, that mandate makes no provision for the management of the watershed areas that collect and store the runoff from rainfall.
Dr Cooper acknowledged that APUA does have regulatory powers over watercourses, including their verges up to 30 feet. This, however, does not translate into watershed management. Nor, in any case, does APUA appear to have either the resources or the inclination to exercise any effective supervision of the country’s watercourses.
The EAG board member made the call for improved national water management systems on Thursday, on the Colin Sampson Show. Readers may visit the Caribarena.com video archive
to hear highlights from the conversation.
Noting that some 70 percent of Antigua & Barbuda’s potable water supply comes from desalinated water, Dr Cooper made a connection between this fact and the general state of neglect afflicting the country’s watercourses, catchments, and dams. This, he said, is one side-effect of a decision made years ago to draw the bulk of the island’s water supply from desalinated sea water.
The environmentalist observed that as a result of this official neglect, not only is the country losing control of its watershed areas, it is also failing to maximize its potential for water harvesting and conservation.
Dr Cooper also pointed out that desalinated water costs about four times as much to process as surface or even well water. Surface water, however, has the disadvantage of being subject to losses owing to evaporation. Subterranean water sources may also become brackish or salty when excessive pumping drives levels toward the salt water table.
Thus, when surface water is abundant and wells productive, APUA draws the majority of water supplies from these more economical sources. However, as cheaper supplies become relatively scarce, the Authority turns to the more costly desalinated water.
Dr Cooper highlighted the difficulties that costly desalinated water can create for the agricultural sector, which is typically the largest consumer of water resources. High water costs can seriously hamper agricultural development and restrict farm output. These negative effects can prevent Antigua & Barbuda from achieving any level of real national food security.
Incidentally, the theme for this year’s World Water Day observance is: “Water and Food Security”. In her message, Florita Kentish, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean, noted that the challenge for the agricultural sector in the future will be to produce more and better quality food with less water. Kentish also observed that in the last century, water use has been growing at twice the rate of population growth.
This serves to underline the significance of Dr Brian Cooper’s call for Antigua & Barbuda to rapidly move toward the implementation of a comprehensive national water resources management plan, administered by a public authority with the teeth to make it work.
Such an initiative, said Dr Cooper, is critical to the future security of the nation of Antigua & Barbuda. Its implementation may well require some level of international assistance, and may even extend to such solutions as importing water in bulk from such abundant and relatively inexpensive sources as Dominica.