Tuesday, 10 November 2015 01:00

Building A Climate Resilient Water Sector in the Caribbean: Strategies for Water Utilities

On August 23rd and 24th, 2015, over 40 participants from 14 countries gathered in Miami, Florida for a training workshop entitled: “Building a Climate-Resilient Water Sector in the Caribbean: Strategies for Water Utilities”.

The workshop was held in the days prior to the opening of Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association’s (CWWA) annual conference and was sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Caribbean Development BankBank (CDB).

A planning committee consisting of the IDB, CDB, CAWASA, CWWA and the Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA) created the program with the support of an IDB consultant. Participants and presenters came from all the Caribbean utilities and regional institutions such as: the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH), UWI CERMES, water resource management agencies, water commissions,
United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) CReW, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and the Caribbean Water Science Center of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), CAWASA, CWWA, IDB, CDB, GWOPA, Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the USA.

The primary objective of this event was to enable utility operators to create concrete action plans to strengthen their water source protection measures and overall resilience in the face of Climate Change.

The main sources of water in the Caribbean are:

  • Groundwater 52.5% (Barbados 83%, Guyana 90%, Jamaica 84%)
  • Surface Water 35.8% (Dominica 100%, Grenada 100%, Saint Lucia 100%, St. Vincent and the Grenadines 86%)
  • Rain Water Harvesting 0.1% 
  • Desalination 11.6% (Anguilla 100%, Antigua & Barbuda 66%, Barbados 20.6%, The Bahamas 100%, Belize 61%, Turks and Caicos, 100%, Trinidad and Tobago 11.7%)
  • Total Production: 2810 Million Litres per Day

Some of the key recommendations of the workshop were:

Water operators are front-line guardians of public health and guarantors of the UN ratified right to water and sanitation. Adequate support to the public water sector will safeguard public health and respect for human rights. 

A first action in strengthening resiliency is reducing losses in existing infrastructure. Capital is urgently needed for this purpose. In some countries, physical losses are 60%. Reducing these losses will decrease the need to tap new water sources. Likewise, conservation measures, implemented with the political backing of the highest level of government, are essential to control water demand. 

Good data, for example credible maps and real-time monitoring systems of surface and ground water sources, is critical for effective water management, just as utilities may not have expertise and resources to obtain analyze this data. Collaboration is essential. This data must be intelligible to front-line water sectors workers as well as to affected communities and ought to be widely communicated through traditional and social media. 

Local communities ought to be enlisted as essential allies in protecting water resources. Sustainable water management is not likely to occur without them. Every effort must be made to educate consumers and communities and involve them in managing their water resources. Creative communications and messaging is necessary, encouraging school children and communities to learn and take action, including advocating with politicians on this issue. 

Because healthy and sufficient water is essential for all sectors of society, new governance arrangements to manage water and land resources are essential. Water utilities, as guarantors of the potable water supply, have a special interest in protecting water resources and should play a leading role. But they cannot do it alone. Effective protection means that water utility must collaborate with regulators, ministries as varied as forestry, agriculture, mining, commerce, energy and with local governments and civil society organizations. Support for inter-institutional collaboration, alliances coordination is essential, which may require legal reform.

There is much knowledge and experience about resiliency and source water protection within water utilities just as there are significant capacity gaps. It is a new area for many companies. Caribbean water operators can help solve problems and build capacity by sharing their knowledge with their peers and by playing a mentor role to one another. Supporting a vibrant learning community, including twinning relationships to exchange knowledge and experience be both within and outside of the Caribbean region, should be a high priority. Other mechanisms, such as virtual learning, should be explored to support ongoing learning on this topic.

Watersheds are frequently contaminated with untreated sewage and climate change related disasters can turn into public health disasters through flooding with untreated sewage. Resiliency and disaster mitigation is accomplished not only by source water protection but through enhanced sewage treatment as well – investment in proper sanitation is essential.

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