THIS week, Saint Lucians were reminded how much of a reality climate change is. Minister for Sustainable Development, Dr. James Fletcher, and WASCO officials were unequivocal: that the water we depend on is more precious than we think.
If water is life, as WASCO’s tagline says, then it must be treated in the same way as blood. That is the impression one gets when water resources make pleas to the public to preserve the precious resource.
Experts estimate that water availability will be decreased by between 10-20 % as a result of the effects of climate change. Faced with that dilemma, the island’s principal provider of pipe-borne water has had to rely less on finger-crossing for rainfall and actually implement contingency measures.
In fact, this year WASCO has instituted its drought management plan earlier than usual to deal with perennial water shortage woes that continue to have an adverse effect on both domestic and commercial consumers.
The drought problem is compounded by the John Compton Dam’s reduced capacity following heavy silting there as a result of repeated torrential rains and storms. Restoring the dam to its full capacity is estimated to take several years and costs millions of dollars.
Discussions are now underway on the feasibility of setting up desalination plants in the island’s northern and southern quadrants. While Dr. Fletcher has on many occasions indicated that vast amounts of capital are needed for investing in such plants, the amount of potable water produced is negligible. Dumping the brackish sludge afterwards is another headache as it poses ecological dangers to the coral reefs.
Faced with these challenges, WASCO is stressing on consumers’ need to consume water wisely. It is advice that should not be taken lightly since an estimated 56% of the water WASCO treats and pumps gets lost via leaks in its distribution system.
With further expansion in the Saint Lucia economy projected, fuelled by heavy investment in the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP), the demand for water increases exponentially. Particularly in the island’s north where over 93,000 residents depend on the John Compton Dam for water; having most of the dam’s 2.8 million cubic gallon capacity filled with silt does not help, either.
Last November, a US$18.3 million rehabilitation project of the 20-year-old main water reservoir at Millet was launched, funded by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), which will involve de-silting the dam. That same month, a US$20 million redevelopment project for the Vieux Fort water supply was also launched.
But even when the proper infrastructure is in place, sourcing fresh water will remain a daunting task – not just in Saint Lucia but globally. As such, it is incumbent on all citizens to take the water conservation message seriously and not think that the fact that water is in the taps, its continued flow is guaranteed.
It truly would be a waste of all these efforts to create better water storage capacity and methods of distribution and have all the little water we have just go to waste.