In an effort to help address issues of water scarcity in Barbados, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is currently co-financing (USD $27.6m) the countrywide Water Sector Resilience Nexus for Sustainability in Barbados (WSRN S-Barbados) project.
Valued at an estimated USD $45.2m, the project aims to help Barbados’ water supply become more sustainable and resilient by incorporating renewable energy into systems, promoting rainwater harvesting, and raising awareness of how the island’s water is affected by climate change.
With an expected completion date of April 16, 2024, the project is just one of many efforts being undertaken by Barbadian authorities to improve the resilience of the country’s water resources.
Understanding Barbados’ water scarcity
Freshwater is important for health and wellness which makes it a key resource.
Given its extensive karst landscape, Barbados has few above ground streams and rivers which contributes to a scarcity in its freshwater supply.
As such, more than 80 per cent of the island’s freshwater is sourced from underground aquifers which consist of thin lenses of freshwater floating above salt water.
This freshwater is accessed by pumping wells and is withdrawn with careful measures in place to avoid over-pumping and saltwater intrusion which occurs when salt water moves into freshwater.
If the quality of the water becomes too saline, the aquifer can no longer be used as a source of freshwater and would even have to be abandoned.
The Barbados Water Authority (BWA) follows the World Health Organisation’s drinking water standards, where more than 250 milligrams of chloride per litre in the water would deem it unusable.
The effects of climate change and saltwater intrusion on Barbados’ scare freshwater resources
In recent decades, climate change has led to Barbados facing rising sea levels, extreme weather events, coastal erosion, warmer temperatures, and changing precipitation patterns.
In a primer for local decision makers, Canada’s Prince Edward Island Department of Environment noted that these factors increase the demand for freshwater and the risk of saltwater intrusion.
BWA hydrogeologist, Jaime Paul, told Cari-Bois the risk of saltwater intrusion is high in aquifers along Barbados’ west coast due to the low-lying topography of the area.
It has already been observed that some communities in this area are already experiencing varying levels of saltwater intrusion
But as the rate of climate change continues to accelerate, it is expected that more of the island’s water resources will be affected by saltwater intrusion.
With climate induced droughts, there is reduced probability of the island’s aquifers being recharged by sufficient rainfall.
The effects of limited rainfall are exacerbated by land development.
It is noticeable that surfaces across Barbados that were once permeable are now paved over which will ultimately prohibit ground infiltration – and the recharging of aquifers – with already limited precipitation.
Combating water scarcity at the home/community level
As Barbados looks forward to managing greater saltwater intrusion, authorities are engaged in efforts to bring more awareness to sustainable water management practices.
As such, it is important for communities to find ways to better conserve and manage water resources.
Paul said that Barbadians can make adjustments in their daily lives just by simply being conscious of the clothes they wear.
Using clothes which are made with materials that are more suited to a tropical climate can mean sweating less and getting a few more wears in before having to wash them.
Making efforts to be more water conscious at home – like turning off the tap when brushing one’s teeth or installing more water efficient toilet tanks – can also assist with conserving water.
Combating saltwater intrusion and water scarcity at the national level
Nationwide efforts are being taken to sensitise Barbadians about the importance of shifting from solely conserving water to storing it, which would be useful during periods of low rainfall.
The BWA launched its Personal Tank Programme (PTP) in 2017 which supplies 400-gallon tanks to help those who are unable to purchase their own water tanks and are living in areas affected by drought to have a method of water storage.
As part of the GCF’s project, the BWA has been able to provide portable tanks to supply households, schools, and businesses and improve outdated infrastructure in order to build the island’s resistance in the face of climate change.
While considerations can be made to build more desalination plants on the island, this is an expensive solution.
Future infrastructural developments must also consider the permeability of the surfaces being used to avoid losing water to runoff and prevent flooding.
With accelerated rates of climate change, the probability of Barbados’ already scarce water resources being further strained is a reality.
The need for the island’s existing water resources to be used in ways that are more sustainable is extremely important.