Hydrologist Urges Meaningful Action to Preserve Natural Freshwater Resources
Nassau, THE BAHAMAS — Water is humanity’s most important natural resource, covering approximately 72 percent of the planet Earth. Yet less than 10 percent of it is drinkable; the rest is salt water.
For The Bahamas, where freshwater resources are finite and vulnerable and there is very little fresh surface water, phenomena like climate change and sea level rise leave this country in dire circumstances.
Hydrologist and retired Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) consultant Dr. Richard Cant says some major islands could lose up to half of their freshwater resources and has called for more research as a means of mitigating the impact.
“To date, natural water resources are limited in The Bahamas and [are] not up to the needs of the nation,” said Dr. Cant. “Potable water supply, especially in New Providence, is provided by reverse osmosis (RO) of groundwater. This situation is becoming worse particularly with the impacts of climate change in particular rising sea levels and storm surges.”
Dr. Cant explored the issues surrounding access to clean water as part of a panel discussion held by the Government and Public Policy Institute (GPPI) at University of The Bahamas (UB) on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), hosted by GPPI Executive Director Zhivargo Laing.
Sea level rise as a consequence of climate change should be of paramount concern to The Bahamas, Dr. Cant stressed, as the primary source of drinking water in The Bahamas is fresh groundwater, according to a 2015 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Rainwater catchment is rarely used, supplying a meager three percent or less of the water.
“By the end of the century we will not be using any of our existing resources to meet the potable needs of the population,” explained Dr. Cant. “We will be forced to go to alternate options of supply and need to be focused on research in this sector.”
The only hope for The Bahamas in such a scenario would be desalination, a process that takes away mineral components from saline water. Dr. Cant noted that historically, drinking water in the Bahamas could only be obtained from wells or from collecting rainwater. Only those two methods were applied until 1960 when the Bahamas Government started to use desalination as a means of providing water in New Providence.
“High production costs and technical challenges associated with the early use of desalination meant that the use of groundwater was always preferred, and this remains the case today where there are good groundwater resources available, even though new technology has made desalination much more reliable and lowered the cost of water produced by this means,” he said.
Presently, most of the freshwater in The Bahamas is provided by desalination via the reverse osmosis process. The FAO 2015 report noted that desalination was expected to increase as freshwater availability continues to decline and water demands grow. Other factors threaten to exacerbate a steadily worsening situation, like groundwater contamination andsanitation.
“Once again good research in this field will be needed,” said Dr. Cant. “There are new technologies being developed that could be utilized in the Bahamas. The University of The Bahamas could investigate these options and become a leader in their design and development. This could provide great new options for bright young scientists.”
He also urged strong and purposeful legislation for the preservation and monitoring of freshwater resources as well as strict enforcement.
“The main thing that really needs to be addressed is the legislation around our national resource,” he said.
“It still comes under the Water and Sewerage Corporation Act, and quite frankly that is a utility company responsible for providing service. We drafted the legislation that we think is needed, it was done a long time ago, with the help of recognized world experts. It just hasn’t managed to go through government. It requires quite a lot of alteration, and we also would then need within it—and the plan is—to create a body that is responsible for that purpose, protecting water resources and monitoring them.”
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