Barbados Dumping Millions of Gallons of Good Water Into the Sea
Submitted by PHILIP G HUNTE
Some years ago, around the turn of the century, I wrote one of the only two “letters to the editor” that I have ever written. I am not the prolific Philip Hunte that is regularly seen in the papers.
The letter dealt with our declining sugar industry and our then new South Coast Sewerage Project [SCSP]. I had learnt that the SCSP was a primary treatment plant and that the “treated sewage” was to be discharged some 1Km southwest of Needhams Point.
I also learnt that it would be dumping 7 million gallons daily into the ocean. The BWA uses imperial gallons, so this translates to just under 32000 m³ of water loss for this island. Water that used to go back into the ground is now being dumped into the ocean.
The whole South Coast sits on a sheet of water, anywhere from Bridgetown to Long Beach and below the escarpment that runs along Gunsite, Rendezvous, Top Rock, Thornbury Hill, Gibbons and Paragon. It is an area of about 3300 acres, all in Christ Church. Anywhere in this area, you could dig a well down to sea level and find fresh water. Many wells are still used, none I believe for potable water. This type of water catchment is called sheet water where freshwater will rest on a layer of seawater that intrudes through the limestone. At Rockley Golf Course well, for instance, the well is 54’ deep and contains about 8’ of water. I have had the pleasure of swimming in it and once dropped a wrench while changing a pump in there and had to dive to the bottom to retrieve it. With no mask on, the deeper I went the more my eyes burnt, meaning that the water got saltier towards the bottom. That was ten years ago and I wonder if it has gotten saltier now that we have been depriving the area of what works out to be the equivalent of 34” of water spread out over the entire south coast from the Garrison to Long Beach. Oh, and that figure is annual. You see the green strip that is the racetrack at the Garrison Savannah? It is irrigated from a well located about 250’ away from the finish line, a desalination plant was built a few years ago.
I say the above to address the fact that, in a water scarce country, we have been getting rid of water worth almost $150000.00 per day for the past 14 years. My letter to the editor went on to say that we should further treat that water and use it for agriculture. My proposal was to treat it at Graeme Hall and pump it eastward along the ABC highway, all the way to St. Philip where it could benefit farmers and in particular, the growing of sugar cane.
We grow our sugar cane without irrigation. About 20 years ago, a pilot project was carried out at Grove Plantation St. Philip where a 5-acre plot of cane was irrigated and fertilized using subsurface irrigation (dripline buried beneath the cane), the fertilizer was injected directly into the irrigation where any weeds saw no benefit from it. Grove (well managed but in a dry part of the island) averaged 17 tons/acre, the pilot plot produced 51 tons/acre, had to be cut by hand as it grew too tall for the harvester and produced slightly less the following year. They could have had two crops if they had somewhere to deliver it. The data is still out there.
The above shows the potential that is still there, The available water, full of nutrients, can be used to irrigate 2000 acres in this manner, producing at least the equivalent of what 6000 acres now produces and being able to continuously produce, the equivalent of 12000 acres. The added benefit would be to concentrate the growing into a smaller area thereby reducing harvesting & transportation costs. It would take a team of intelligent, resourceful, innovative and above all, honest people to work on the feasibility of a project like this.
So we now have increased production but we still cannot compete with the world market for bulk sugar. Don’t, package it really nicely, hire a marketing firm to promote it and the only sugar that leaves this island leaves in 500g packages made of compressed bagasse. We charge top dollar and at last something exported will subsidise the cost to locals, unlike things like cement & ice cream, made in Barbados but can be bought cheaper overseas. We can then say that our rum is again truly ours because our molasses would not have to be imported. Lets not forget that the Bridgetown sewerage plant dumps 2 million gallons per day and that the West Coast system was projected at 5 million.