New Providence, The Bahamas – Remarks by Hon. Philip E. Davis, M.P., Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works & Urban Development on the Occasion of the World Water Day 2015 “Water and Sustainable Development” given on Monday, 30th March 2015, at the Lecture Theatre Harry C. Moore Library College of The Bahamas, Oakes Field Campus:
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the period from 2005 to 2015 as the International Decade for Action, “Water for Life”. This decade commenced on World Water Day, 22nd March 2005. Today, we mark the end of that decade with a discussion of Water and Sustainable Development.
Today, more than ever, the world is aware that water is essential for sustaining life, promoting human health and well-being, and preserving the environment. The world is also painfully cognizant of the fact that every year, millions die from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation, and hygiene. Bringing it closer to home, the many small nations of our region acknowledge our challenges with respect to water, waste, and energy.
While the world sounds the alarm to mitigate against water crises, The Bahamas’ press for sustainable development and preservation of its resources are well-documented. Until the early 1960s, groundwater was the only available source, and it was heavily exploited particularly in New Providence. Even as a fledgling in nationhood, The Bahamas continued to rely on its groundwater sources for clean water, and, to a lesser extent, rainfall. During the 1970s and 1980s, our freshwater lenses were studied, and their potential as reliable sources of potable water was quantified and mapped out. On the face of it, there appeared to be significant volumes available, but most occurred on the larger islands where there are few inhabitants.
Ladies and Gentlemen
In recent years, our nation witnessed significant improvement of living standards in every island, large numbers of visiting tourists, and electricity being readily available. As a consequence, water demands have sky-rocketed to the point where the groundwater resources of most islands cannot meet the needs of the local populations. In New Providence, wellfields were seriously over-pumped and could not be enlarged because of conflict for land use and threats of groundwater pollution. In fact, during the 1970s, water was barged from North Andros as a stop-gap solution to the water shortages in New Providence. Andros’ terrain is typically just one to three feet above sea level where this resource is best developed; therefore, this process of extracting and barging became untenable, considering the change in weather conditions, the cost of shipping, and the decrease in the quality of the water following inundation of the freshwater lens with salt water associated with storm surges generated by hurricanes.
The crisis in sourcing groundwater, though, gave birth to now-thriving private water supply companies as we resorted to desalinated saltwater systems. On a larger scale, Consolidated Water Co. Ltd. (CWCO) began providing bulk water under long-term contracts to the Water and Sewerage Corporation. Consolidated now owns and operates two desalination plants on New Providence and supplies over 90% of the potable water distributed by the Corporation. One day, if the world continues in its current trend with respect to sea level rises, groundwater resources will become a scarcity such that the only source of potable water available will be desalinated.
The Government of The Bahamas acknowledges the developing threats to its water resource, particularly as it relates to the wellbeing of its residents and those who visit us. Arguably, the most significant challenge, however, is climate change, and its effects on water security and other aspects of our existence. Sea level rise threatens to destroy major groundwater resources in The Bahamas.
The SAMOA Pathway, which was adopted last year, affords us the opportunity to bring about action toward the effective, inclusive and sustainable implementation of the integrated management of water resources and related ecosystems, including supporting women’s engagement in water management. This is to be implemented through developing institutional and human capacities; providing and operating appropriate facilities and infrastructure; expanding wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse; and improving water-use efficiency, all in the broader context of Small Island Developing States’ (SIDS) sustainable development.
In this regard, our national agencies responsible for water and sanitation services continually plan for appropriate adaptation to our ever-changing environmental conditions. The best technology will need to be used to provide pure water and to treat all waste effluents.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Adapting to the use of new and improved technologies is critical; however, these are high energy technologies and in the long term alternate energy options will need to be applied. Water and energy are inseparable friends. It is with this in view that The Bahamas is initiating the use of alternative energy as an energy source for RO, creatively engaging more and diverse applications of renewable energy sources to suit the composition of our many island nation. Already, the WSC is in discussions with its major Family Islands desalinated water supplier, Aqua Design/GE and third parties, to introduce renewable (wind) energy at its production facilities, thus lowering the cost of water production in the Family Islands.
Having regard to the pre-existing scarcity of freshwater resources, it is vital that we do not waste this very costly water. This compels us to aggressively address our critical challenge of leakage of potable water, which has been recorded as high as fifty percent (58%) from the WSC’s supply. Other losses result from unauthorised use such as theft; on a lesser scale, metering errors; and through authorised usage such as fire-fighting and mains flushing – all discharging water for which no money is collected, that is, Non-Revenue Water (NRW).
In an effort to address this challenge, Government supported the Corporation’s contractual engagement of Miya Water to reduce NRW. Miya developed a comprehensive strategy for water loss reduction and commenced implementation in 2013. For the first time since its engagement, Consolidated Water, the Corporation’s water supplier, reported significantly decreased revenues for 2014. This decrease is directly attributed to the efforts of the Water & Sewerage Corporation and Miya Water Bahamas to reduce water losses in New Providence. In just over 18 months of implementation, NRW was reduced from its initial level of 6.9Migd, to 4.9Migd on an annual basis.
As a result of the infrastructure installed and the effective monitoring and control processes, the number and frequency of leaks have decreased, thereby reducing overtime requirements and allowing the Corporation to focus on other maintenance activities.
Over the life of the contractual agreement with Miya, it is expected that more than 10 billion gallons of water will be saved. By avoiding production of this water, we will save 7 million gallons of diesel and 33 gigawatts-hours of electricity. This is, I am advised, equivalent to powering over 600 households and over 800 vehicles for 10 years.
Other major activities in progress include the preparation of a Sewerage Master Plan for New Providence and drafting legislation to enable URCA to regulate the water sector as it does the communications sector, and as is planned for the electricity sector.
Ladies and Gentlemen
For The Bahamas, then, these are challenging, yet exciting times. Through cooperation of the public and private sectors, we are moving toward meeting water challenges head-on. Today, we celebrate our having clean and abundant supplies of water flowing from our faucets. As we progress beyond the decade of action, we celebrate our successes, but have no cause to rest. According to the UN World Water Development Report, at least one in four people is likely to live in a c ountry affected by chronic or recurring shortages of freshwater by 2050. For us – all Bahamians, all residents – that is more than enough reason for us keep water management and sanitation at the top of our personal and collective priority list, working in a spirit of urgent cooperation and open to new ideas and a willingness to give “different” a chance.
I bring the greeting of Government and wish each of you a Happy World Water Day!