Managing Dominica’s Most Precious Resource – WATER
Though it is said that in Dominica “there is a river for everyday of the year” the Dominica Water and Sewerage Company (DOWASCO), does not want to take their abundance of water for granted. Mr. Bernard Ettinoffe, General Manager of DOWASCO knows all to well how finite and vulnerable the water resource is and how it can be negatively impacted by climate change, human activities and new development, quite easily. Therefore, DOWASCO is determined to manage this precious resource appropriately and ensure the sustainability of water resources for all Dominicans now and into the future.
What is the current statistic on water provision throughout the country?
Presently over 97% of the islanders have potable water. We would have been at 100% had it not been for Tropical Storm Erika in August of 2015. At the time a new water system was set to be commissioned in the village of Belles by October of that year, but the storm wreaked havoc on our work there. 1,443,000 Eastern Caribbean Dollars (XCD) have been requested to complete that project.
CLEAN and SAFE DRINKING WATER
What efforts are in place to ensure that clean drinking water is supplied?
The way that DOWASCO maintains clean water systems is to obtain intakes from way up stream where the soil is not loose, where the rocks are more solid and where the water is not prone to silting. Our best water sources are higher up and some within the UNESCO World Heritage Site where people do not live and where agriculture and the felling of trees is not permitted. Because there is no construction of any kind in that area, the water is very, very clean. The water is pulled from those sites, chlorinated and delivered to the communities. Depending on turbidity levels, others checks and treatments may include sedimentation, filtration, coagulation, and flocculation. We always ensure that the water is very clean. When cruise ships come into port, Dominica supplies the vessel with this same water which is double checked on board in the ship’s water testing labs.
The raw water quality is already very good, so most of the time chlorination is the only necessary treatment. This is because we choose areas that are higher up in the mountains and have less interaction with people. If we require a water intake in an area that has agriculture, the farmers in that area are paid a subsidy and are no longer allowed to utilize that land. There is zero tolerance for the felling of trees and the planting of crops near a water intake area to ensure that no fertilizer or other runoff enters the water system. In cases where turbidity can be high, for example with the Springfield/Antrim system that serves Roseau, (after the road was constructed, a lot of debris was dumped on the hillside), we have introduced coagulation and flocculation with that particular system.
I have noticed the Hydroelectric Complex near Trafalgar falls. How does water in Dominica help in the generation of electricity?
The Dominica Electricity Services Company (DOMLEC) uses some hydropower which is generated from water coming down Trafalgar Falls from Fresh Water Lake. DOWASCO has a bulk waterline that extends from the mountain power plant all the way down to the seashore and which has the potential to load ships with six million gallons of water per day. Our intention is to use that water to load the ships, but once no ship is loading, to use that water to generate hydropower and upload it onto DOMLEC’s grid. DOWASCO has a Power Purchase Agreement with DOMLEC for this process. There is a trade-off from the electricity that DOWASCO utilizes and the balance which is uploaded to the grid. More specifically, there is a designated price that DOMLEC would pay for the generated electricity, which is included in the Power Purchase Agreement. If the water company uses more electricity than what is uploaded, then we pay the difference; if we use less, then the electric company will refund the difference based on the prearranged price. Presently, less than 20% of the community is using hydropower. The goal has always been to utilize more, but recently investment and focus has moved toward the development of geothermal energy.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR UNIVERSITY RESEARCH
If students from the University of South Florida had the opportunity to participate in an internship here, what kinds of water projects could they be involved with?
If university students were interested in water projects in Dominica, they could study the linkages between forestry, the water resources and the impact of climate change. Some water resource studies have already been conducted by the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) of the University of the West Indies. A team of students could follow up that work. Presently Dominica is looking at a water audit to determine the quantity and quality of both surface water and underground water, along with the identification of the water recharge rate and an understanding of the water balance as a whole. The country could also benefit from a study of the independent efforts at rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and water reuse and turning that study into a campaign that encourages the sustainable use of water island-wide.
MITIGATING WATER SCARCITY IN THE CARIBBEAN
With all of this water on the Nature Island, is there any opportunity for entrepreneurship?
Not all islands in the Caribbean are as blessed with the abundance of water like Dominica. Water-scarcity is a problem for several countries in the region and there is an opportunity to leverage the existing capabilities of Dominica to meet that need. Dominica is known as the Nature Island; building along that theme with the promotion of quality Nature Island water from the tropical forests of Dominica, we could be a supplier to water-stressed areas in the region like Antigua, Barbuda, and Barbados, among others. Dominica has the highest per capita of water in the region.
At the Patel College of Global Sustainability we have learned about the Water-Energy-Food Nexus and how a change to one sector can significantly impact another. How is this systems thinking approach considered in Dominica?
In Dominica, energy is used to provide water and water is used to generate energy. As much as possible, gravity is used to deliver clean water to many of the residences and business on the island. In some areas, however, we are obliged to use pumping stations to deliver water to communities that are above the waterline. Although the cost of that water is high, DOWASCO does not pass those costs on to the consumers in that area. Instead, we make up some of the cost of energy used to deliver that water through earnings from the hydropower production and the power purchase agreement with the electric company. More and more, demand for water is also required for the irrigation of agriculture. In the minds of most people, gone are the days when gardens could rely solely on rainwater. Certainly rainwater harvesting could provide some of this water requirement and productivity could increase significantly if people would simply learn how to better manage their water usage. But for now, the food production levels are still heavily dependent on the water system. This all contributes to the Water, Energy, Food Nexus in Dominica.
Even though it is believed that Dominica has 365 rivers, Mr. Ettinoffe is hopeful that best practices in water management will be utilized all over the country which will conserve this finite resource and contribute even more to their status as the Nature Island of the Caribbean.
Jerry John Comellas; University of South Florida; Patel College of Global Sustainability