Physical scarcity of freshwater is often given as the reason for water shortages, but it is usually its management that can either create or resolve the problem. This will be illustrated by the case of Barbados. The water management issues are typical of many small island states, some of which are particularly vulnerable to water scarcity, especially in the context of climate change. Barbados experiences extended interruptions in the water supply, mainly in northern and eastern parishes. Supplies of freshwater are relatively sparse, but it will be argued that it is the policy regime that ensures that water is inefficiently supplied, allocated and used, and so is the primary cause of supply interruptions. The objectives of this paper are to establish a theoretical framework for sustainable water resource management and frame a strategy for Barbados which reconciles demand and supply of water while taking into account environmental, economic and social interests. The mixed methodology involved semi-structured interviews of policy makers and practitioners from the water, tourism, agriculture and planning sectors, as well as a household survey.

Introduction

World

Freshwater scarcity is now one of the most pressing global environmental problems, and will become an increasingly serious constraint on development in many countries. The United Nations Environment Program Geo-2000 report noted that about 20% of the world's population does not have access to adequate supplies of safe drinking water, and 50% does not have proper sanitation. More recently, Mekonnen & Hoekstra (2016) estimated that about 66% of the world's population (4 billion [109]) now experience water shortages for at least one month of each year, while half a billion (109) people in the world now have severe water scarcity all year round.

Caribbean

The situation in the Caribbean is relatively diverse. Some islands have very limited freshwater supplies, especially those with extensive areas of permeable rocks such as coral limestone (see Table 1). Jamaica, with a varied geology, has ample supplies of freshwater, but also has serious problems with faecal contamination of the wells in many areas and very high rates of theft and leakage, a combination that creates artificial shortages and resulting lock-offs. Barbados, by contrast, has relatively sparse supplies, but the shortages and lock-offs are still primarily the result of inappropriate policy. As this suggests, it is policy and management that are the primary factors that can either create or resolve water shortages.

Table 1.

Contextual profiles of Barbados and Jamaica.

 Barbados Jamaica 
Area (square km)a 431 10,991 
Population (2012 est)a 278,550 2,889,187 
GDP per capita (US$ 2012)a 16,307 5,526 
Renewable water resources (cubic metre/capita/year)b 281.5 (2014) 3,874 (2014) 
Polluted resources (%)  10c 
Non-revenue water (%) 44–49d 75e 
 Barbados Jamaica 
Area (square km)a 431 10,991 
Population (2012 est)a 278,550 2,889,187 
GDP per capita (US$ 2012)a 16,307 5,526 
Renewable water resources (cubic metre/capita/year)b 281.5 (2014) 3,874 (2014) 
Polluted resources (%)  10c 
Non-revenue water (%) 44–49d 75e 

Barbados

Barbados, the most easterly of the Caribbean islands, is a small and flat land mass and the most densely populated country in the region. The economy is tertiary in nature, and is primarily based on tourism and other services. Water consumption per sector portrays a contrasting economic structure, with agriculture consuming the majority of water supply. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) AQUASTAT database estimates that agriculture uses 67% of water supply, municipalities 25% and industry 8%.

The country is ranked by the World Bank as ‘upper-middle income’ and boasts high human development or quality of life as defined by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It has problems such as environmental degradation and resource scarcity, which require urgent management intervention in order to mitigate the impacts on economic and social development. Water resource management is particularly important. Barbados, although being regarded as a model for small island development, is defined as ‘absolute water scarce’, because of a per capita availability per year of freshwater of less than 500 cubic metres. Barbadians already experience extended interruptions in the water supply, mainly in northern and eastern parishes, so the country is at a critical stage in the management of its limited freshwater resource.

As a consequence of severe water shortages, a privately owned desalination plant commenced operations in 2000. The 30,000 cubic metres per day brackish water reverse osmosis (RO) plant was designed to supply water for approximately 20% of the island's population. In 2000, the desalination plant produced 7.8% of water supply (Caribbean Community Secretariat, 2003), and by 2005, output almost doubled contributing 14% (FAO AQUASTAT database). Task Force (2002, p. 4) noted however that:

[…] despite the construction of the desalination plant, some water supply problems are still being experienced partially due to the absence of an appropriate institutional structure and capacity, and financial constraints.

Barbados’ supplies of freshwater are limited, but it will be argued below that it is its management that ensures water is inefficiently supplied, allocated and used, and so is the primary cause of supply interruptions. The fundamental question is how this limited resource should be managed. In the case of Barbados, the first question is whether Barbados has a water demand-side or supply-side problem. The ancillary question is whether the approach to water management should be primarily economic (e.g. water is not free, it should be allocated to the highest value form of use through the market, and management should focus on pricing to manage demand) or social (water should be subsidized by taxes, and management should focus on ensuring that everyone receives sufficient supply – perhaps especially those most in need).

The economic approach emphasizes the relationship between water use and gross domestic product (GDP) contribution, so that water (a finite resource) can be allocated to the sectors where it will contribute most to the economy. The social approach almost invariably entails subsidies in order to allocate water to sectors (such as agriculture in Barbados) that make very little contribution to GDP but do help to provide employment in rural areas.

More recently, such questions have been framed in the context of climate change (which is likely to have significant implications for freshwater supplies, as a result of increased incidence of storms, rising seas and more saline intrusion and so on), and sustainability (which may involve using both demand-side and supply-side management to ensure that total consumption does not exceed the maximum amount of water available).

Objectives

The objectives of this paper are to establish a theoretical framework for sustainable water resource management and to frame institutional and policy strategies for sustainable water management in Barbados. The framework considers a number of critical variables, including structural water poverty, adaptive capacity, freshwater supply and demand management. The mixed methodology involved the analysis of semi-structured interviews of experts and practitioners from the water, tourism, agriculture and planning sectors as well as a household survey.

Sustainable water resource management

The Global Water Partnership (GWP) Framework for Action states that ‘the water crisis is often a crisis of governance’ (GWP, 2000). Policies therefore play a critical role in determining whether a country is suffering from water shortages. The main challenge is aligning demand with supply in a manner that maintains environmental integrity (UNDP, 2006).

Shiva (2002) posits core principles such as community control and water democracy, which are based upon social doctrines and values. Shiva opposed the current discourse, which views water as an economic resource.

On the other hand, the economic perspective, which is promoted by the Dublin Principles, forms part of a new paradigm in water management focusing on demand management. This view advocates for a price that reflects the cost to provide the treated commodity. According to Turton (1999), solely developing supply, which is a social approach to water management, is not a sustainable approach to meeting the needs of a population. Supply management, which has failed to decrease the water deficit, focuses on projects such as well and river abstraction, and construction of dams. On the other hand, a demand-side approach is in line with the global paradigm shift to the second phase of water management (Turton, 1999). Demand management involves managing competing demands, end-user efficiency and allocative efficiency. End-user efficiency is promoted through technological changes resulting in ‘doing more with water’ and achieving ‘more crop per drop’ and is technically and politically easy to implement. Allocative efficiency depends on socio-economic changes resulting in ‘doing better things with water’ and achieving ‘more value per drop’ and can be achieved through water markets, water rights and holistic cost benefit analysis (Global Water Partnership Technical Committee, 2004).

An integrated approach to water management is underscored in the literature and promoted by international environmental institutions as the sustainable regime for efficiently managing water resources while reconciling social, economic and environmental interests. This ideal approach has been criticized, however, primarily for its poor operational record (Biswas, 2004; Snellen & Schrevel, 2004). Centralization is also a major flaw (Biswas, 2004), especially in developing countries (Shiva, 2002; Smith, 2008). Biswas (2004, p. 255) posits that:

Water management must be responsive to the needs and demands of a growing diversity of central, state, and municipal institutions, user groups, private sector, NGOs, and other appropriate bodies. Concentration of authorities into one or fewer institutions could increase biases, reduce transparency, and proper scrutiny of their activities.’

Biswas (2004, p. 252) also noted that integration of all sets of complex water-related issues ‘… simply cannot be achieved’, and he bemoaned the imposition of this global framework onto the national scale despite the world being heterogeneous with different socio-economic issues and physical characteristics to consider.

Pearce (1995) highlights the need to consider the inevitable trade-offs inherent in the attempt to achieve multiple goals, which involves assessing the different costs and benefits related to economic growth, social welfare and environmental quality. Sustainable freshwater management involves a particularly complex set of trade-offs, which involves reconciling competing interests, diverse outcomes and conflicting perceptions, all within a context of national concerns and policies. As this suggests, sustainability is to a significant degree specific to a given context; regional and national needs and characteristics are not the same, and so cannot be legally defined at a global level (Ministry of Housing, Lands and the Environment, 2003).

Clayton & Radcliffe (1996) note that in both economic and environmental systems there are periods of relative stability or punctuated equilibria; systems may appear to be stable because multiple economic, social and environmental forces are in dynamic balance at that point. However, a system can exist in more than one stable configuration, and therefore there can be transitions (sometimes rapid) to other states of equilibrium, sometimes as a result of incremental pressures, but sometimes catalysed by trigger events or ‘game changers’ (in, for example, technology, demographics, economics, politics and so on), so it is unrealistic to assume that any given period of stability will endure. This is why it is important to model the behaviour of system boundaries in the event of significant, sustained pressure (climate change is a possible example) to assess the risk of potentially catastrophic, irreversible effects.

This inherent complexity raises a number of practical issues about the sustainability discourse. For example, Biswas (2004) queries how sustainability should be measured in operational terms. Feitelson & Chenoweth (2002, p. 273) raise two practical issues: how widely should sustainability be defined? and how should sustainability aspects be incorporated in cost estimates? Feitelson and Chenoweth also highlight the challenge of defining timelines for sustainability (applying costs calculated over extended periods, for example, has the effect of giving these variables far more weight in the ensuing comparison of costs and benefits). Pearce (1995, p. 18) suggests that sustainability policies ‘will make current generations worse off now, and perhaps for very little certainty that we have avoided an unsustainable future for our children’. Pearce therefore questions the extent to which the present generation is willing to make the necessary adaptations to secure, albeit without certainty, a future for the next generation. This makes it clear that significant changes in social, economic and environmental values and behaviour will be required.

Adaptive capacity and the structural water poverty index

Beyond the demand management phase is the adaptive phase in which the population continues to adjust its consumption to sustainable levels. Adaptive capacity is made up of structural and social components (Turton, 1999; Feitelson & Chenoweth, 2002). According to Turton (1999), the structural component involves an institutional setting, strong financial support and research regime, and multidisciplinary intellectual capital. The structural output includes strategies and policy options. The social component is more complex and takes into account the willingness and ability of the population to accept management initiatives designed by technocrats. It also considers the ability of the technocrats to elucidate strategies that will be considered reasonable and legitimate.

The structural water poverty index developed by Feitelson & Chenoweth (2002) is a measure of the structural adaptive capacity. The index gives a better sense of what is required to provide water and sanitation services by looking at the cost and ability to pay. Feitelson & Chenoweth (2002, p. 271) posit that the index:

[…] would primarily identify countries likely to face serious difficulties ameliorating their water supply problems, rather than identify countries with existing supply problems, which in many cases are readily apparent.

Water quality is considered by the index in the cost and affordability of sanitation services. The index also recognizes the global paradigm shift from agriculture to domestic access to water, and that a country does not need to be water rich to be food secure if food is imported using virtual water. Figure 1 illustrates the water poverty concept. First-order scarcity describes countries with scarce water resources (e.g. upper quadrants) whereas second-order scarcity depicts poor countries with limited capacity to finance water supply and sanitation (left quadrants). Underdeveloped and water scarce is the worst situation to be in (top-left quadrant).
Fig. 1.

The water poverty concept. Source:Feitelson & Chenoweth (2002). (LDC stands for Least Developed Countries and FSU stands for Former Soviet Union.)

Fig. 1.

The water poverty concept. Source:Feitelson & Chenoweth (2002). (LDC stands for Least Developed Countries and FSU stands for Former Soviet Union.)

Barbados’ structural capacity

In 1857 Bridgetown Waterworks Company was formed in response to a growing Bridgetown population and the need to move beyond the simple systems for water at that time, which mainly involved using ponds, springs and rain harvesting (Mwansa, 2001). Another company was formed in 1886, the Barbados Water Supply Co., to supply rural areas. Eventually in 1895 the Government bought both companies because of conflicts over well interference and formed the Waterworks Department (Mwansa, 2001). The current management entity, the Barbados Water Authority (BWA), was established by the BWA Act [Cap. 274A] in 1980 to improve and expand on the activities of the Waterworks Department. Primary functions include:

• […] the establishment of efficient, coordinated and economical water supply and sewerage systems capable of meeting the need for water and sewerage services; and

• […] control and regulate the production, treatment, storage, transmission, distribution, and use of water for public purposes (Government of Barbados, 1980, p. 4).

The BWA collaborates with other public and private entities to fulfil its mandate. The Institutional Resource Regime includes the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), Town Planning Development Office (TPDO), Drainage Unit, Soil Conservation Unit, Land and Water Use Unit, Ministry of Health, Meteorological Office, Coastal Zone Management Unit (CZMU) and Governmental Analytical Services. The Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (BADMC) is a statutory organization, which provides irrigation water to small-scale farmers. On the private side there is American Ionics Freshwater Ltd in collaboration with the local Williams’ Industries, which had a Build Own Operate and Transfer (BOOT) contract to desalinate brackish water. Private contractors also conduct meter installation and private developers build infrastructural capacity (Mayers, 2005).

Barbados’ structural output

Barbados’ Policy Framework for Water Resources Management comprises a number of short- and long-term interventions. The Draft Policy Framework for Water Resources Development and Management was developed by a Task Force established in 2001. The policy framework establishes an integrated approach and outlines strategies for supply management and augmentation, demand management, water quality management and institutional capacity building. The policy views water as a social and economic resource. It states:

As a social resource enough water must be made available to meet the “basic human needs”, beyond that users must appreciate the scarcity value of the resource’ (Task Force, 2002, p. 19).

It outlines new approaches to use efficiency and identification of alternative sources. It also speaks to the impacts of climate change and considers brackish water desalination as the best augmentation option based upon cost estimates. However, the policy recommends hydro-geological investigations of the long-term sustainability of brackish water desalination especially during drought. The use of treated wastewater for groundwater recharge and by major irrigation users such as golf courses forms part of supply management.

A major issue is the fact that the BWA is the manager of the resource, the main user and the regulator; and the policy called for the separation of operational and regulatory functions (conflict of interest and the call for separation were also noted in the Sustainable Development Policy). The framework proposed delegating the regulatory responsibilities to various entities. The Fair Trading Commission (FTC) would have responsibility for economic and service regulation. A regulatory body under the Environment Ministry would be established to manage water use, allocation and management regulation. Water quality management would be the responsibility of the EPD and operational responsibilities would remain with an improved BWA.

Another structural output is the 1963 Zoning Policy, which seeks to address land use and groundwater contamination by dissecting Barbados into five land use zones. Zones are defined based upon geology and travel times of pollutants. Zonal restrictions are presented in Table 2.

Table 2.

Features of the groundwater protection zoning policy.

Zone Definition of outer boundary Maximum depth of soakaway pits Domestic control restrictions Industrial control restrictions 
300 day travel time None allowed No new housing or water connections. No changes to existing wastewater disposal except when Water Authority secures improvements. No new industrial development 
600 day travel time 6.5 m Septic tank of approved design, discharge to soakaway pits. Separate soakaway pits for toilet effluent and other domestic wastewater. No storm run-off to sewage soakaway pit. No new petrol fuel or oil tanks. All liquid industrial wastes to be dealt with as specified by the Water Authority 
5–6 year travel time 13 m As above for domestic wastewater. Petrol fuel or oil tanks to approved leak-proof design. Maximum soakaway pit depths as for domestic wastes 
Extends to all high land No limit No restrictions on domestic wastewater disposal. Petrol fuel or oil tanks to approved leak-proof design.  
Coastline No limit No restrictions on domestic wastewater disposal. Siting of new fuel storage by Water Authority.  
Zone Definition of outer boundary Maximum depth of soakaway pits Domestic control restrictions Industrial control restrictions 
300 day travel time None allowed No new housing or water connections. No changes to existing wastewater disposal except when Water Authority secures improvements. No new industrial development 
600 day travel time 6.5 m Septic tank of approved design, discharge to soakaway pits. Separate soakaway pits for toilet effluent and other domestic wastewater. No storm run-off to sewage soakaway pit. No new petrol fuel or oil tanks. All liquid industrial wastes to be dealt with as specified by the Water Authority 
5–6 year travel time 13 m As above for domestic wastewater. Petrol fuel or oil tanks to approved leak-proof design. Maximum soakaway pit depths as for domestic wastes 
Extends to all high land No limit No restrictions on domestic wastewater disposal. Petrol fuel or oil tanks to approved leak-proof design.  
Coastline No limit No restrictions on domestic wastewater disposal. Siting of new fuel storage by Water Authority.  

There is also the 1953 Underground Water Control Act, which established a Water Board and licensing for construction and operation of wells. The Board can alter the abstraction rates based upon a shortage of water and can declare prohibited areas for sewage disposal. The Act applies mutatis mutandis to the control of surface water.

In 2003 and 2004, an array of supply-side policies were implemented to address the severe water shortages in the north and east of Barbados (BWA, 2004). These policies included testing abandoned wells for desalination purposes, expanding and rehabilitating the well network, installing new mains and sourcing water tankers. In 2014, an island-wide upgrade of water meters commenced and in 2016, two medium-term, containerized desalination systems were commissioned. Both systems are to augment supplies in the north of the country. In addition, two permanent seawater systems are to be constructed as part of a long-term strategy.

One point of debate is the energy cost for desalination and the affordability of supplying a high-consuming and transient population. As Robic (2008) notes, adopting desalination shifts the concern from water scarcity to energy. For Barbados, the high cost was mitigated by desalinating brackish water. Chenoweth (2008, p. 32) states, however, that:

[…] with desalination now as cheap as 50 cents per 1000 litres, all but the world's least-developed countries can afford to supplement their natural supplies of fresh water as long as they have a coastline.

Desalination, nonetheless, is not a panacea for solving the water scarcity dilemma (Hophmayer-Tokich & Kadiman, 2006), as the increased supply can stimulate increased consumption. Hophmayer-Tokich & Kadiman (2006) note the case of Malta where demand increased with the installation of additional desalination capacity. In addition, the reduction in non-revenue water revealed that too much desalination production capacity had been installed (Robic, 2008), indicating that money had been spent unnecessarily. Desalination also raises concerns about the right mix of public and private ownership, and regulatory oversight (Cooley et al., 2006). It should therefore be adopted at a late stage in a policy mix with the initial emphasis on improving infrastructure, efficiency and water management processes (Robic, 2008).

Institutional issues

There are regulatory and economic issues related to the institutional profile for water management in Barbados. The first issue has to do with BWA regulating its own service. Governments are generally not supportive of separating water resource regulation and assessment from the supply side, as it is widely thought that is the first step towards full divestiture. Nevertheless, the FTC's regulation, in addition to water quality regulation by the EPD, serves to provide a better governance framework compared with the present scenario of BWA regulating itself. Related to this self-regulation issue is the operational challenge of reducing non-revenue water to 15% of supply. Non-revenue water is water lost or used for free through burst mains, standpipes, illegal connections, firefighting, street flushing and metering inaccuracies (Masis & Etkin, 2003). The largest contributors are burst mains and metering inaccuracies (Masis & Etkin, 2003), in contrast to Jamaica, where the main contributors are leaking pipes and water theft. Ideally, leaking pipes should be fixed before employing additional capacity. However, the reduction of non-revenue water cannot be achieved overnight, and a supply was urgently needed to make up the water deficit, which led to the introduction of desalination in the case of Barbados.

The financial standing of the BWA is another significant issue. Initially the water authority was a department within a Government Ministry and all the funding was provided through budgetary estimates from central government. Since 1980, when the BWA was created, the Government stopped providing a subvention and the BWA was to depend on resources generated from selling water even though the water rates historically were never set to recover the full operating cost. Inadequate cost recovery has always contributed to the problem of insufficient capacity for capital works expenditure. This lack of financial resources caused the BWA to engage in a private sector partnership to provide desalinated water. The BWA felt that the introduction of the FTC into the water management framework would enable it to recover the full cost of operation and capital expenditure, and at that point there should be no problem meeting the future water demands.

Prior to 2001, water rates did not reflect the economic value of water (Brewster & Mwansa, 2001). In 2005, the rates were changed in an attempt to recover more of the cost and in anticipation of FTC regulation. This restructuring also addressed the cost of desalination somewhat but the BWA still absorbed the majority of the cost. During this period, Ifill (2007) noted that consumers were paying on average US$0.14 per person per day for water. Water rates increased again in 2009, by approximately 60%. It was another effort to enable the BWA to become financially viable and promote end-use efficiency by consumers.

The cost recovery challenge and inefficient management by the BWA contributed to a substantial financial deficit. The issue was highlighted by the auditing company, KPMG, who noted that ‘The Authority's operating results and financial position raise significant doubt about its ability to continue its operations in the foreseeable future’ (BWA, 2004, p. 20). The BWA (and the Government) lacks the financial resources (affordability is low, second-order scarcity) to afford the high cost of water supply (greater than 5% of GDP) (see Table 3). In addition, the technical staff at the BWA are limited and frustrated. This suggests that the structural adaptive capacity is low. The recent downgrading of the island's credit rating only serves to weaken its structural adaptive capacity despite assurance from the Governor of the Central Bank that the country can still attract investment. Therefore, the sparse water resource is not the constraint as there are other places with less water than Barbados that have managed well, for example, Malta.

Table 3.

Sample data for the structural water poverty index for Barbados.

GDP in 2005 (BDS$ million) Debt servicing for 2004–2005 (BDS$ million) Standard & Poor's credit rating (2009)* 5% of GDP (BDS$ million) 10% of GDP (BDS$ million) Operating and investment costs for BWA in financial year 2003–2004 (BDS$ million) 
1,082.9 559.8 or 55.4% of GDP BBB 54.2 108.3 76 (or 7% of GDP or 15.7% of national income after debt servicing) 
GDP in 2005 (BDS$ million) Debt servicing for 2004–2005 (BDS$ million) Standard & Poor's credit rating (2009)* 5% of GDP (BDS$ million) 10% of GDP (BDS$ million) Operating and investment costs for BWA in financial year 2003–2004 (BDS$ million) 
1,082.9 559.8 or 55.4% of GDP BBB 54.2 108.3 76 (or 7% of GDP or 15.7% of national income after debt servicing) 

Barbados’ water poverty status should be of concern, that is, the country's ability or inability to afford a reliable water service for domestic and economic needs. In this challenging time of global credit contraction, credit will be allocated for competitive economic policies rather than socially based initiatives, partly because all additional credit approved will add to the debt-servicing requirement of the country.

Policy issues

The focus on up market tourism as an engine of growth has significant implications for water management. Up market tourism requires a high level of service and significant infrastructural modifications to the existing infrastructure (Mwansa, 2003). There is also the perception that water conservation strategies will compromise the quality of stay for the high-end visitor and this is against the background that Barbadian hotels are characterized as fair-to-poor water users (Mwansa, 2003). In addition, the trend towards inland development, including eco-tourism projects and golf courses, located upstream of public water supply wells, poses a challenge for watershed management (Brewster & Mwansa, 2001).

A major challenge is that the mode of economic development does not truly reflect consideration of the water resource and this is an issue of contention between water managers, planners and economists. Policy makers do not seriously consider water use requirements for the economic projects that are being developed as the present approach by the Town Planning department is ad hoc: a ‘project by project situation’. The balance between water requirements for golf tourism, the economic development catalyst, and actual financial returns is a related issue. Economic planners have forecast that water-intensive golf tourism can generate the necessary foreign exchange to allow for additional development in water infrastructure but there is little evidence to confirm this.

Perverse tourism policies also act against sustainable water management. For example, the Tourism Development Act allows for interim approval of a tourism project by the Minister when it is viewed that the project is practical and it would assist the development of tourism. An overarching policy consideration should be the water-carrying capacity for tourism and economic development but this has not been established. In addition, tourism development policies have not sufficiently tackled the issue of poor water use by hotels. There were also divergent sectoral views about the disconnection of hotels when in arrears and the effectiveness of Green Globe certification influencing water conservation.

For agriculture, the main water user, there were conflicting visions. Some of the concepts included modernizing, developing competitive advantage, self-sufficiency, fostering a more-diversified sector, promoting the linkages, and moving to niche agriculture. In addition, agriculture's small contribution to GDP was not considered a reason to reallocate water to more-productive sectors; residual user status was unacceptable to the industry; and there were differences of opinion as to whether the industry should use recycled water. There were also differences of opinion with regard to subsidized water rates for irrigation and whether this represented a good use of public funds.

A general view emerging from the analysis was that blue water should not be taken out of agriculture and allocated to other economic sectors like tourism, even though Barbados is already heavily dependent on food imports, and tourism contributes substantially more to the GDP (and allows Barbados to import its food). If the primary goal is to maximize the economic return on water, then more should be allocated to tourism, while if the primary goal is to meet social objectives, then more should be allocated to agriculture. However, there is a lack of clarity on the role of these sectors in Barbados. A closer examination of the trade-off between allocating water to tourism (economic approach) and agriculture (social approach) is therefore necessary. In 2005, agriculture contributed 4.51% of GDP and tourism contributed 14.93%. There is, however, a multiplier effect by a factor of approximately six with regard to tourism's contribution, as services that are related in some way to tourism contributed 87.69% overall of GDP. Therefore, for every BDS dollar spent on potable water in 2005, agriculture returned only BDS$0.64, but tourism returned BDS$2.13 to BDS$12.53 because of the multiplier effect. Therefore, the policy decision to allocate resources to agriculture is not economically efficient and does not support the development of the country's economic potential. The analysis shows a lack of evidence-based decision making by policy makers and the fact that many are in denial about agriculture's economic irrelevance. An economic approach is more efficient as a result of competition in the marketplace and is therefore a much better way to deliver social gains than a social approach that involves such high levels of inefficiency.

Another issue is the ineffectiveness of the zoning policy. The strategy is based on Tulstrom laws, which have no effect on nutrients because they do not deteriorate. In addition, agriculture is conducted in Zone 1 areas and pesticides are used, which do not break down. The Tulstrom equations are based upon diffused flow, a homogenous system comprising sheet flow of water. However, there is also conduit flow, which is a lot faster than diffused flow and is facilitated by well-defined underground channels. Therefore, a better understanding of the hydro-geology is required. One perspective coming out of the interviews challenged the justification for placing limited land under restricted development when there is the technology to sewer zoned areas. It was felt that there is no technological reason why residential development cannot be allowed in Zone 1. In the interim, a large partial RO plant could be constructed in the Belle, St. Michael to remove the nitrates from the groundwater. RO has a dual function as a disinfection barrier: it stops small pore-size bacteria, and viruses. There is, however, a potential controversy related to land speculation in Zone 1 areas, especially on the opulent west coast, which is suitable for golf course development. The 1979 and 1997 Water Resources studies recommended that Norwoods district be reclassified from Zone 1. As a result the value of land increased after reclassification to Zone 2, moving from US$2 to US$25–50 per square foot. Therefore, the reclassification of zones has significant economic implications for Barbadians.

Related to the zoning issue is the problem of maintaining water quality, which is impacted by land-use activities. The UNDP (2006, p. 143) notes, ‘Water quantity is not the only benchmark indicator for scarcity. Quality also has a bearing on the volume available for use.’ In particular, there is the problem of managing insidious and pervasive pollutants such as nitrates and ‘bacti’. Klohn-Crippen Consultants Ltd et al. (1995, p. 22) provide a synopsis of water quality in Barbados. They note that:

Review of water quality data reported in various studies shows bacteriological contamination and nutrient enrichment, especially of nitrate-nitrogen, in streams, surface runoff and groundwater wells. In addition, traces of pesticide residues were detected in well water samples.

The Government has not been transparent with respect to water-quality reporting. The lack of transparency contributes to the apparent disconnect between public perception and the management of the limited resource. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), if the raw water is contaminated to a significant degree, two disinfection barriers are required. Only one disinfection barrier is used in Barbados (chlorination), despite the water-quality issues with nitrates and bacteria in the groundwater, and also the contact time is inadequate. In addition, there is no opportunity to routinely measure the raw water quality because the chlorine is injected as soon as abstraction is completed.

Another issue is wastewater recycling for primary and secondary use. There is the potential to reuse approximately 20% of abstracted water. The Bridgetown sewage plant collects 2.0 to 2.5 MGD (millions of gallons per day) of wastewater, and the south coast plant collects 2.5 MGD. The west coast plant when built should collect 4.0 MGD. Therefore, approximately 9.0 MGD could be reused. To implement wastewater treatment and use, legislation is required for compulsory use by certain sectors, coupled with restrictions on brackish water RO considering the implications for the brackish water lens. At the Bridgetown plant, however, there is only secondary treatment and on the south coast there is preliminary treatment. Therefore, there is no tertiary treatment of wastewater in Barbados.

Finally, water sector actors disagreed as to whether the country was on the verge of a water crisis. Some felt that there was no crisis because the Government is well aware of the issues to be addressed and has taken the position that the present situation will not impact economic growth, so it is expected that the necessary resources will be provided. On the other hand, some felt that the country was on the verge of a crisis, perhaps similar to Walkerton in Canada where the disinfection process broke down and people died from Escherichia coli contamination. Such an occurrence would have a serious implication for tourism.

The implications for national development

Barbados has a national vision for tourism as the catalyst for development and growth and this has to be managed within the context of the available and affordable water resources. At present, the plans for the development of the tourism industry do not seriously consider the problem of low freshwater availability. In practice, however, tourism's water demand has to be assessed in conjunction with the allocations for domestic, agricultural, manufacturing and environmental demands. The approach towards water management therefore has to be focused on the core goal of efficiently managing both water supply and demand in order to sustain the country's high human development. Given that demand is growing separately in most of these sectors, it is clear that there will come a time when all participants on both the supply and demand side will have to accept that significant changes are needed in the approach to water management and policy.

Climate change is another exceptionally profound challenge for both water supply and demand management in a small island. Any water management policy must now allow for climate change adaptation measures in order to achieve water security. All current projections indicate that stresses are likely to increase in future, for example, drought periods, sea-level rise exacerbating the current saline intrusion problem, and warmer temperatures influencing increased consumption of water by demand sectors. The successful implementation of the Paris Agreement, however, could mitigate these effects in the long term.

Small island sustainability

A pragmatic, results-oriented approach to water management requires determining the trade-offs within the particular context. Achieving sustainable water management (as outlined in Figure 2) is dependent on maintaining an appropriate and long-term dynamic balance between the relevant economic, environmental and social forces. The three-pronged approach (see Figure 2) highlights the trade-offs necessary for the sustainable management of freshwater, which is theoretically at the centre of the triangle in Figure 2, but could be polarized towards one (corner of triangle) or two approaches (side of triangle) depending on the forces at play in the national context. To reach to a given point of sustainability (or equilibrium) will require some level of trade-off or compromise between economic, environmental and social dimensions. An environmental approach would take into consideration nature conservation, coastal zone protection, water quality protection, climate change adaptation and waste management. An economic approach would normally involve demand-side management, full price (without subsidy) for water, privatization, a focus on sectoral contribution to GDP and (real or virtual) water trades. A social approach would usually involve a supply-side approach, subsidies to deliver social outcomes and emphasis on employment creation, especially in rural or disadvantaged areas.
Fig. 2.

Theoretical framework for sustainable water resource management.

Fig. 2.

Theoretical framework for sustainable water resource management.

There are also hybrid options. Environmental–economic approaches have tended to be overlooked in policy, leading to market failure and environmental pollution. Socio-economic approaches involve a number of controversial trade-offs such as that between paying the full market price for water and subsidies for certain sectors. An environmental–social approach entails a challenging reconciliation of phenomena such as climate change adaptation and supply-side approaches to water management.

The theoretical framework represented by Figure 2 influenced the management model recommended by highlighting the importance of context and the inclusion of social, economic and environmental approaches. The options for supply-side or social approaches to water resource management are limited in Barbados, so the emphasis has to be on better management of the resource. This in turn means that the allocation and use of the resource have to be linked to clear national priorities. For example, if the priority is to seek the highest economic value use of the water, this would result in water being allocated out of agriculture and made available for golf courses (which generate far more revenue than agriculture). Alternatively, if the national priority is the needs of particular social groups, then water might be reallocated from golf courses to subsistence farming (which generates far less revenue, but is seen as a way of supporting a particular segment of the population).

Institutional recommendations

Institutional strength is one of the important structural components of adaptive capacity, which can be bolstered by the technical and financial capacity of the private sector. Institutional reform is, as usual, the most important catalyst, as the achievement of multiple policy goals is always dependent on resources, the working relationship between the public, the technicians and the bureaucracy, and by the efficient use of economic incentives and disincentives. Social factors can, of course, be taken into account. In the Republic of South Africa, for example, a certain basic allocation of water (sufficient for drinking and bathing) is provided free of charge to households, with charges above that level of usage.

The institutional solution requires reform to the present institutional culture; the lack of transparency is a particular impediment as most of the information needed to balance multiple objectives is effectively invisible. The use of inappropriate and ineffective management models will therefore have to be addressed, probably by a combination of policy changes, privatization, fresh investment and new management. This will require that the BWA, a statutory agency, be reconfigured and rebranded to serve as a regulator, with actual provision of water being privatized. This would allow the essential separation of regulation from provision, as a combination of the two invariably generates conflicts of interest (for example, a utility with regulatory powers is highly unlikely to fine itself for breaching its own requirements). It would also allow the cessation of cumbersome bureaucratic protocols (such as the civil service financial regulations and general orders) currently used for day-to-day operations, and the adoption of a results-oriented framework. The new institution could then have the responsibility for oversight of both water supply (including agriculture) and demand management policies. The BWA would therefore divest its water supply, sewage infrastructure and part of its current human resources to private companies, and, with them, the responsibility for managing the water infrastructure. Income for the regulator could then be from water and sewerage licenses, fees and other charges such as penalties (including polluter-pays charges). There are also arrears, which could be recovered by the BWA. Monitoring of supply and demand could then be a joint initiative involving the public, private sector, academia, the BWA and EPD. The FTC could then formally be a part of the water management structure. The irrigation unit of the BADMC should also be privatized and become a major player in recycling water for farming. For example, the irrigation unit could provide recycled water from the sewage plant to the farmer, through an appropriate market arrangement, with the necessary infrastructure in place. The groundwater abstraction infrastructure of the BADMC should be divested to potable water suppliers in the private sector. Figure 3 shows the proposed institutional framework for sustainable water resource management in Barbados.
Fig. 3.

Proposed institutional framework for sustainable water resource management in Barbados.

Fig. 3.

Proposed institutional framework for sustainable water resource management in Barbados.

The rebranded regulatory and policy authority would liaise with a task force of supply- and demand-side actors, which would allow sectoral interests (such as tourism and agricultural policy makers) to inform and be informed by a more transparent and inclusive policy process. Water-quality actors (such as agriculture, which could absorb treated wastewater) could then become part of the water management task force. This structure would encourage early collaboration at the policy development stage, which would mitigate against ad hoc sector-specific policies, which are probably unsustainable.

Transparency and public education are two related and critical areas of institutional policy to be established by the new regulatory entity. The clear and simplified regulatory role for Government would allow for much better information sharing, as the Government would no longer be regulating itself. Public education would reduce the disconnect between public perceptions and actual freshwater availability and could be used to prepare people for the introduction of increased water tariffs or incentives for water saving.

Supply recommendations

The reliable supply of potable and secondary-grade water is critical to sustainable social and economic development. Private companies regulated by the new regulatory entity can supply water, as in the current case of desalination. Due to economy of scale and the small size of Barbados, it is anticipated that not many companies will have to be regulated. Allocative efficiency using different types of water is recommended (see Figure 4). Potable supply for the tourism and domestic sectors could be sourced from groundwater (replenished by recycled water injected in the upper watersheds during the wet season) and desalination, while secondary use could be from recycled (irrigation) and green water (including rain) sources. The agricultural sector should also include virtual water sources into the policy mix. In the long term, agriculture is to reduce dependence on the groundwater and spring sources. This is a controversial trade-off of the sustainable water management strategy. In the short term, private wells for agriculture should be metered and illegal wells investigated with the support of new legislation that mandates entering properties for inspection. Public education and awareness are required for three supply initiatives: desalination for tourism, recycled water for agriculture, and the shift towards agriculture reducing its blue water use.
Fig. 4.

Schematic of the sustainable water management strategy for Barbados.

Fig. 4.

Schematic of the sustainable water management strategy for Barbados.

RO using renewable energy and use-efficiency infrastructure should make seawater desalination more economical. However, improvements in supply infrastructure and water management processes should be implemented before desalination production is ramped up. Reduction of non-revenue water to 15% will recover approximately twice the current volume being supplied by desalination. As part of a raw water-quality programme, RO is also recommended as a second barrier of water treatment for any microbiological concerns, for example, at the main water production facility in the Belle, St. Michael.

In addition, an efficient water supplier should be able to charge the full price for all use categories with higher rates during the dry season. This would have a twofold effect of adequate cost recovery by the supplier, barring any delinquency, as well as influencing water conservation by the consumer. Public perception reflected a lack of support for an increase in water rates, however. There was a sense of unwillingness to pay for an increase, at least until there is better management. One survey respondent noted that, ‘The water woes in Barbados are exacerbated by poor management of the resource. The BWA does not practice what it preaches and should stop wasting water as well.’ In support of full cost recovery, the social policy promoting public standpipes should also be phased out.

Demand recommendations

For the tourism sector, a revitalized approach towards development planning is proposed. This would involve conducting a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) that would allow for early consideration of environmental constraints on development at the policy development stage (long before an Environmental Impact Assessment can be conducted) and a clear understanding of the carrying capacity of the total freshwater availability, both natural and through technology (related to cost). Foresighting is a complementary methodological tool, which can be used to establish a sustainable framework, especially in cases where current development policies are considered unsustainable. According to Wehrmeyer et al. (2004, p. 5), it is a:

[…] technique used to anticipate and prepare for the future. It involves analysing the technological, economic and political changes that will shape events, and identifying strategic or business development options.

A basic exercise involves three steps: visioning (collaborative scenario development); reflecting (comparative analysis of future scenarios); and backcasting (analysing back from the preferred scenario to the present day, tracing the sequence of critical events and changes); and participants have the option of not pursuing a particular vision because it is unrealistic, as opposed to applying mitigation measures (Wehrmeyer et al., 2004).

For the agricultural sector, there are a number of possible scenarios with regard to how it relates to water. One scenario is a future of increasing water scarcity due to climate change. In the absence of adequate investment in water storage facilities, and wastewater treatment facilities in the interim, this would mean limited water and productivity by the agricultural sector. Another possibility is that the policies of the Paris Agreement will be successfully implemented and the worst-case outcome be averted. The question is therefore: what is the right policy response in terms of costs and benefits, taking into consideration the water requirements of other demand sectors such as domestic, tourism, manufacturing and the environment? The key task is to develop a plan that will maximize the chance of obtaining the best-case outcome. There are socio-economic trade-offs required for a sustainable agricultural policy in a water-scarce environment. Barbados cannot be self-sufficient in food production or competitive in agricultural production because of limited land and water, and a tourism-based economy. Barbados will therefore have to depend on international and regional trade for part of its food supply. Therefore, it is a case of determining the capacity of food, for example in terms of number of days of reserve, that can be produced locally.

To this end, greater dependence on regional agricultural production should be realized. Other countries in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) such as Guyana, Suriname and Belize are water-rich and have the land to produce food for the region. Within the context of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), importation and cost concerns related to the use of virtual water would be addressed. Therefore, the virtual water trade in the Caribbean should be formally incorporated into agriculture and water policies.

Conclusion

For Barbados, it is clear that water management and development strategies have significantly influenced the present-day water insecurity situation. The constraint is management: a lack of policy coherence and unsuccessful administration. The limited extent and incoherence of the current policy regime reveal the unsustainable nature of water management in Barbados. The severity of future consequences will depend on human adaptability and ingenuity as well as affordability of sustainable policies.

Barbados faces challenges on both the demand and supply sides of management. Recommendations, which are skewed towards an economic perspective, seek to align the two in a manner acceptable to the public, Government, investors and environmental interests. The Barbadian situation is typical of other water-scarce small islands with limited management capacity, tourism-centred economic growth, conflicting policies and water-quality and climate-change concerns.

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