Decades ago, residents of Barnes Hill in Antigua recalled being “summoned” to line-up for their weekly distribution of water from the Barnes Hill Community Reservoir.
Veronica Williams, 81, said residents became familiar with hearing the call of “Gather up, Gather up! Three turns, two turns, one turn.”
Former government worker, Willy Joseph, was responsible for making the call to “gather up” residents for their weekly distribution of potable water.
Back then, potable water from the reservoir was a luxury and the community’s main source of water for drinking, washing and showering.
In those days, the size of your family determined how much water you could get.
Williams explained, “If your family is big, you get three turns of water, if it’s smaller you get two turns, and if it’s you alone you get one turn.”
And given many people didn’t have plastic buckets back then, Williams recalled some waited for their share of water with make-shift galvanised containers.
But the type of container didn’t matter much.
What mattered most was the moment that Joseph would turn a heavy pipe head to dole out water from the reservoir which was built of concrete and crowned with a flat galvanised roof.
But starting in the late 1950s, that all slowly began to change after a hurricane damaged the reservoir’s roof and heavily polluted the stream it relied on.
In addition to this, Williams said potable water was also becoming more accessible to all communities in Antigua including those near to Barnes Hill.
So residents slowly started to use the reservoir less and less.
Over time, neglect and encroaching vegetation transformed the reservoir into a mere memory that became concealed under a blanket of bush.
President of the Barnes Hill Community Development Organisation (BHCDO), Kamaule DeFreitas, told Cari-Bois, “Some people didn’t even know that there was a reservoir there because it was so overgrown with bush.”
For DeFreitas, the organisation’s work to restore the reservoir will “offer relief from the intense heat and persistent drought that have become the new normal.”
Leading up to the creation of the organisation in 2015, DeFreitas said there were severe water shortages in Barnes Hill during a four-year nationwide drought.
Originally, the organisation was created as a response to the drought with a mission of repurposing the reservoir as a backup water storage facility for the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) during drought.
But given the APUA couldn’t guarantee water quality, DeFreitas said plans shifted to using the reservoir’s grounds as an eco-park for events and community activities.
When full, DeFreitas explained the reservoir has a natural waterway leading to ponds which will not only maintain the park but also continue being a source of water for people in extreme drought.
Restoration efforts include repairing the walls and roof of the reservoir’s catchment.
Years of debris and invasive plants at the site have been replaced by lemon, limes, soursop, sugar apple and kenip (Melicoccus bijugatus) trees, for example.
A space has also been earmarked for a community garden and the organisation is in the process of building a headquarters on the site.
With an estimated cost of at least XCD$400,000, the project has been financially supported by the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme and Inter American Foundation (IAF).
Presently, the 2.4-acre reservoir can accommodate up to 2,000 people and is used for community events like bingo and church picnics.
Recently, an additional 1.6-acres of land – near to the reservoir – was donated by the Shouls family to build a second reservoir.
This is due to the growing demand for water associated with the series of severe droughts that Antigua has faced in the past decade alone.
In addition, the Government is in the process of designating the area as a National Heritage Site with green spaces and historical trails.
As the country deals with the effects of climate, the efforts by the Barnes Hill community shows the value of teamwork, preserving history, and repurposing neglected areas for conservation.
In the face of rising temperatures and frequent droughts, the revitalised reservoir will once again become an important community space.