Water boils at 100 °C. With dry taps, the citizens of T&T are reaching their boiling point as the water crisis deepens.
Some of the pressure to 'burst residents’ pipes' is caused by the ageing and rusted metal pipelines, thousands of leaks throughout the country and the length of time the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) takes to respond to repair them.
To exacerbate the matter Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte warned that if consumers don't pay their water bill they will be disconnected. He stated in a Sunday Guardian report last weekend that they need $13B to fix some of WASA's issues.
With the grave shortage, WASA has been rationing water in areas throughout the country.
Apart from the shortage, citizens have to contend with brackish water coming out of taps and forced to pay for water while unscrupulous businesspeople profit by increasing the price on water tanks.
Opposition MP for Mayaro Rushton Paray recently warned that residents in Mayaro and surrounding communities had been going without a regular water supply for several months and if the situation escalated can lead to an uprising by residents reminiscent of the March 23, 1903 Water Riots resulting in the Red House set afire and the deaths of 16 people and 42 injured.
What are we doing, what can be done?
The Sunday Guardian contacted Trinidad-born Dr Kiran Tota-Maharaj, head of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK, for some solutions to the country’s water woes.
Tota-Maharaj said WASA has been very outdated in the methods, management, and systems it has in place. "It’s probably still using a lot of techniques done 20-30 years ago, with an ageing infrastructure," he said.
Leakage is a massive problem in T&T, the way leaks are identified, monitored and also maintained, it is outdated.
"A lot more changes are needed in terms of identifying leaks, such as employing ground-penetrating radar to identify simple cracks.
What T&T needs to do is look at the actual water reservoirs and start with simple solutions such as finding some sort of effective covering, a floating, impermeable material for dams to reduce the rate of evaporation."
He said there was also the use of some sort of mould injection system for water treatment.
Tota-Maharaj, a project engineer with the International Water Security Network, said looking at water distribution pipelines was step one, until WASA addressed the leaks, since it will be quite challenging for the authority to tell members of the public that they had to pay for water when there were not a constant 24 hours water supply.
He said Singapore employed a closed loop system where waste water was properly treated and returned to full purity.
Desal plants, not the ultimate solution
Tota-Maharaj said desalination plants were not the ultimate solution, studies done in T&T with river flows, showed that if properly managed both surface and groundwater during the rainy season can be stored and distributed to communities.
He said there was too much dependency on desalination plants—when there was a severe drought in South Africa, the first thing the Government contemplated was building a desalination plant in Cape Town. He said, however, once the river waters went back up and reservoirs were filled after several days of rain, the South African Government reconsidered its decision.
Besides being energy intensive, there was also an environmental impact with desalination plants. A BBC report in January indicated that desalination plants around the world were pumping out far more salt laden brine than previously believed.
The brine raises the level of salinity and poses a major risk to ocean life and marine ecosystems.
When asked if artificial rainmaking was a possible solution to T&T’s water problems, Tota-Maharaj said it was “a bit way ahead” of what the country needed.
He said rainwater harvesting and collection was feasible in Port-of-Spain and for agriculture.
He said it will help the city based on the water table, proximity to the sea and especially during the rainy season utilising simple solutions such as water tanks, collecting rain run-off and designing permeable pavements.
Knowledge transfer from UWI, UTT to WASA
Tota-Maharaj said in extremely dry seasons, storage mechanisms must be considered such as rainwater tanks for more drainage and irrigation purposes.
He said WASA should be involved with the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), the Institute of Marine Affairs
(IMA) and other institutions.
He said universities should be educating the public about the drive for water conservation, harvesting, and management and both the public and private sector needed to put their minds together to start finding sustainable solutions.
Tota-Maharaj said he worked with some very hard working academics in UWI and UTT.
He said with their work and projects in water and the waste water sector, there should be a knowledge transfer and links with WASA and other companies involved in the water sector.
Tota-Maharaj said there needed to be more transparency and collaboration between the entities. He said the utility could use a lot of support and advice from the institutions, well-qualified scientists and engineers at both universities.
•Water recharging of reservoirs, dams, and aquifers
•The establishment of flood retention basins during the dry season
•Golf courses that need thousands of gallons of water to maintain be curtailed
•Employ satellite data, geographical information system, water demand modelling for the prediction and management of water demand patterns
UWI professor: Capture run-off, install metres
Meanwhile, UWI St Augustine Professor of Agricultural Engineering Reynold Stone said on the supply side, to increase the water availability there was a need to identify areas that could be used to capture and store run-off during the rainy season. Stone said currently, a large amount of run-off was simply allowed to flow to the Gulf of Paria.
He said on the demand side, the data obtained from WASA showed that the per capita consumption of water by domestic users in T&T was much higher than in other countries.
Stone said it was time to explore the employment of water metres which was likely to encourage the more responsible use of water resulting in reduced consumption.
He said though it was implied, that by metering, payment was based on the amount of water used; if one had to pay based on usage, one was more likely to reduce waste and consumption.
How citizens can help
Asked what citizens can do to conserve water, he said:
• The average shower should not exceed four minutes. He said many water companies in the UK gave out timers set for four minutes, the duration of their shower
•Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, install toilet devices that control the volume of water or go old tech and put a brick in the toilet tank and use rainwater harvesting for flushing toilets
•Plant trees, shrubs, and grass that provided shade
Who is Dr Kiran Tota-Maharaj?
Dr Kiran Tota-Maharaj is the Head of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Environment and Technology at the University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE Bristol), United Kingdom (UK). He is also a project engineer with the International Water Security Network (http://www.watersecuritynetwork.org/) and a chartered engineer (CEng) with the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). His applied engineering experience and areas of research include water supply systems, waste water engineering, stormwater management and critical infrastructure for water, waste and environmental sectors. He is currently involved with research and engineering projects addressing renewable energy in water and waste water treatment applications.
Next week, look out for Kiran Tota-Maharaj's column—Patching up the Pipes: Technologies to put an end to leaky water mains