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Freshwater Resources in the Insular Caribbean: An Environmental Perspective

Authors:
  • USDA Forest Service

Abstract

From islands with no permanent flowing streams to those with navigable inland waters, the insular Caribbean contains a great range of conditions regarding the access to freshwater resources. Because of the variation in topography and size, the ability of islands to retain freshwater also varies widely. The usage of freshwater in this region is being led by two major drivers: (1) the demands of basic water needs from an increasing urban population, and (2) those of tourism-based economies that demand water for recreation and aesthetic uses. Formal and informal freshwater management and conservation approaches vary from those being implemented at an individual level based on cultural practices, to those based on government programs. Although most islands have integrated watershed resources practices at some level, economic investment in infrastructure and social governance of water and environment need further evaluation and development. In this overview paper, a description of the natural environment associated to freshwater resources in the insular Caribbean is presented, noting also economic and climatic constraints. Opportunities for improvement in the management of Caribbean freshwater resources are discussed in light of the particular regional environmental context.
FRESHWATER RESOURCES IN THE INSULAR CARIBBEAN... 63
Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93 Caribbean Studies
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PERSPECTIVE
Tamara Heartsill Scalley
ABSTRACT
From islands with no permanent flowing streams to those with navi-
gable inland waters, the insular Caribbean contains a great range of
conditions regarding the access to freshwater resources. Because of
the variation in topography and size, the ability of islands to retain
freshwater also varies widely. The usage of freshwater in this region is
being led by two major drivers: (1) the demands of basic water needs
from an increasing urban population, and (2) those of tourism-based
economies that demand water for recreation and aesthetic uses. Formal
and informal freshwater management and conservation approaches
vary from those being implemented at an individual level based on cul-
tural practices, to those based on government programs. Although most
islands have integrated watershed resources practices at some level,
economic investment in infrastructure and social governance of water
and environment need further evaluation and development. In this
overview paper, a description of the natural environment associated to
freshwater resources in the insular Caribbean is presented, noting also
economic and climatic constraints. Opportunities for improvement in
the management of Caribbean freshwater resources are discussed in
light of the particular regional environmental context.
.H\ZRUGV freshwater, watersheds, management, urban, sewage, rural,
erosion, consumption, governance, waste water, environment
RESUMEN
En las islas del Caribe hay una gama amplia de condiciones en torno
al acceso al agua, desde islas sin afluentes de ríos permanentes hasta
aquellas con ríos navegables. La variedad en tamaño y topografía de
las islas también se refleja las diferencias en habilidad de almacenar
y manejar recursos de agua de manera local. El uso de recursos de
agua dulce y agua potable en esta región está siendo guiado tanto por
(1) las necesidades de una población urbana que va en aumento, como
por (2) las necesidades de una economía basada en el turismo, donde
el consumo de agua incluye tanto usos recreacionales como estéticos.
Estrategias de manejo de agua tanto formales como informales están
siendo implementadas en toda la región, y éstas van desde prácticas
TAMARA HEARTSILL SCALLEY
64
Caribbean Studies Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93
culturales individuales hasta programas gubernamentales. Cabe señalar
que aunque muchas islas en la región tienen un manejo integrado de los
recursos hídricos, aún hay muchos tramos que recorrer en términos de
gobernanza social de este recurso y de mayor inversión en infraestruc-
tura pues es evidente que hace falta más integración ambiental para
un desarrollo efectivo de este recurso. En este manuscrito se presenta
a modo de resumen, una descripción del ambiente natural en torno
al recurso agua. Se presentan recomendaciones y oportunidades para
mejorar el manejo de recursos de agua en el Caribe a la luz de las
condiciones particulares del medioambiente de la región.
3DODEUDVFODYH agua dulce, cuencas, manejo, urbano, rural, erosión,
consumo, gobernanza, aguas residuales, re-uso de agua, ambiente
RÉSUMÉ
Les îles caribéennes possèdent une grande variété de conditions liées à l’accès
aux ressources en eau, y compris celles ayant des rivières asséchées et d’autres
GLVSRVDQWVGHÀHXYHVjQDYLJXHU/¶XWLOLVDWLRQGHVUHVVRXUFHVHQHDXGRXFHHW
potable dans cette région est soumise aux facteurs suivants : 1) les besoins
d’une population croissante et ceux de l’industrie agricole intéressée, 2) les
exigences d’une économie touristique où la consommation d’eau comprend
XQXVDJH jGHV¿QVGH ORLVLUVHWHVWKpWLTXHV/HV VWUDWpJLHVGHODJHVWLRQ IRU-
melle et informelle de l’eau mises en place dans la région sont basées sur
des pratiques individuelles et culturelles de la société et sur des programmes
gouvernementaux. Il est important de signaler que plusieurs îles de la région
ont déjà une gestion intégrée des ressources hydriques ; cependant, long est le
chemin à parcourir en ce qui a trait à une gouvernance sociale de ces ressources
et à des investissements solides en termes d’infrastructures vers une meilleure
intégration de l’environnement et une gestion adéquate de cette ressource.
Dans ce manuscrit nous présentons un résumé sur la description de l’envi-
ronnement naturel autour de la question de l’eau, des recommandations et des
opportunités pour améliorer la gestion des ressources en eau dans la Caraïbe
en tenant en compte du contexte environnemental particulier de la région.
Mots-clés : eau douce, bassins, gestion, urbain, rural, l’érosion, la gou-
vernance, la consommation, les eaux usées, réutilisation de l’eau, l’envi-
ronnement
Received : 30 August 2012 Revision received : 26 November 2012 Accepted :
27 November 2012
,QWURGXFWLRQ
Human subsistence depends entirely on the access to fresh-
water resources. With this in mind, the islands of the Carib-
bean currently face unique challenges regarding freshwater
resources management, mainly due to changes in the islands’ land cover
FRESHWATER RESOURCES IN THE INSULAR CARIBBEAN... 65
Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93 Caribbean Studies
and land use patterns over time, in addition to climate change itself. Both
land use and land cover have an impact on sediment loads and general
water quality, which ultimately affect, not only freshwater resources,
but also the countless other systems that are connected to, or otherwise
interact with, these resources. These impacts include the salinization of
irrigated agricultural lands, increasing urban floods, the contamination
of groundwater, severe erosion, loss of infrastructure, and sedimentation
in near shore systems, such as coral reefs. Ultimately, the degradation of
water resources leads to the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems services,
which not only sustain the fauna and flora of these aquatic systems, but
are also essential to humans as well.
In this article, a description of the natural environment associated to
freshwater resources in the insular Caribbean is presented, taking into
account the economic and climatic constraints that characterize some of
these islands. Among the observations made regarding the islands’ man-
agement practices and conservation approaches toward their freshwater
resources, it can be said that they vary from those being implemented
at an individual level based on cultural practices, to those based on gov-
ernment programs. Although most islands have integrated watershed
resources practices at some level, economic investment in infrastructure
and social governance of water and environment need further evalua-
tion and development. Finally, opportunities for improvement in the
management of Caribbean freshwater resources are discussed in light
of the particular regional environmental context.
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$6XPPDU\RI3UHOLPLQDU\)LQGLQJV
The fate of human societies, as we know them, may ultimately rest
on our access to freshwater supplies. In the Caribbean, island govern-
ments and residents have sought different measures to account for their
particular water supply situations: While some islands have plenty of
freshwater sources, others suffer from dry climates and heavy droughts,
among other extreme factors, thus forcing their inhabitants to drastic
measures as they struggle to keep up with their populations’ freshwater
needs.
Although the Caribbean is becoming increasingly urbanized, many
rural communities in some islands still do not have easy and continuous
access to potable water (e.g., Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad and
Tobago). And while these rural communities have an urgent need for
clean, potable water delivery, the needs of many urban communities, in
contrast, are directly related to the management of sewerage and the
overflow of aqueducts (e.g., San Juan metropolitan area in Puerto Rico).
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Caribbean Studies Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93
In most of the Caribbean, a greater investment must be made to build
and/or improve the necessary infrastructure for sewage and aqueduct
facilities. Current trends in the insular Caribbean seem to be intent on
fixing and “patching up” these problems, while ignoring the ever-present
chronic aqueduct and sewerage system needs for maintenance, upkeep,
expansion and modernization.
Furthermore, the relatively low cost of water in the Caribbean in the
recent past has resulted in poorly-maintained infrastructure and water
losses that are unaccounted for (nearly 50% in most of the region): this
has been the case in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico,
although many other islands also share this situation. And even though
the current costs of served or delivered water have undergone recent
price increases in the region (Table 1), island water agencies are still
vastly underfunded. The operation and maintenance of hydraulic facili-
ties drive the cost of water delivery, and the current systems everywhere
in the Caribbean are barely able to catch up. The government of Cuba,
for example, still needs to subsidize its main water agency, the Instituto
Nacional de Recursos Hidráulicos (INRH), in spite of implementing
charges for the services of potable water and sewerage since1993. There
is hope, however, that this new tariff system will eventually lead to a
greater valuation of water resources and that the self-financing of Cuba’s
water agency will be possible. One of the hopes of the tariff-charging
system is that these new charges will serve as an incentive to decrease
the demand for water and promote a more efficient use.
That said, the prevalent lack of investment in the maintenance of
water delivery infrastructures—including wastewater management sys-
tems—inevitably leads to a great deal of public health and safety issues,
as well as environmental degradation. When water distribution systems
are not maintained in a proper and timely manner, it can lead to per-
sistent leaks and the discontinuity and/or interruption of service, which
impair the pumping system and interrupt chlorine additions; ultimately,
they may cause an accumulation of sediments in pipes and, possibly, the
contamination from drainage waters or other polluted sources. This, in
turn, affects the domestic storage of water in tanks and cisterns, when
they are filled by low-quality water, loaded with sediments.
Moreover, leaky septic tanks, urban water contamination, and efflu-
ent from agricultural runoff need to be considered when counting on
groundwater resources. The solid waste contamination of soils and sub-
surface water due to leaching is common. Effective and safe re-usage of
gray water and treated sewage must be discussed and encouraged as part
of any water resources management plans. The sewage treatment plants
with the capacity to redistribute partially-treated waters in order to irri-
gate ornamental gardens, hotel grounds and golf courses, and to create
FRESHWATER RESOURCES IN THE INSULAR CARIBBEAN... 67
Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93 Caribbean Studies
7DEOH. Water costs in US Dollars per 1000 US gallons for various Caribbean
islands, as reported in water authorities webpages as of July-August 2012. Note
that the costs presented reflect only metered and delivered water. These costs
do not reflect water bills for the same 1000 US gallon consumption amount as
these do not include meter rent, connection fee, energy (fuel or oil) factors,
base charges nor sewer fees. Conversions used 3.7854 m3 = 1000 US g; 1 m3 =
264 US g; 1US g = 0.833 UK g.
Country
unit
To 1 USD
Domestic
Commercial
Resource for delivered, piped water costs
and tariffs
Anguilla XCD 2.70 12.35 37.04 http://gov.ai/water.php
Antigua &
Barbuda XCD 2.70 56.91 135.00 http://www.apua.ag/
Aruba ANG 1.78 9.61 22.78 http://www.webaruba.com/en/services/
water-tariff.html
Barbados BDD 1.98 18.56 34.88 http://barbadoswater.net/
http://www.bwa.bb/
Bonaire USD 1.00 8.43 .
http://webbonaire.com/joomla16/index.
php/nl/thuis/10-productenendiensten/20-
tarieven
British Virgin
Islands USD 1.00 12.00 25.00 http://www.dgo.gov.vg/helpdesk.
php?mhpageid=81
Cayman Islands KID 0.82 19.28 22.21 http://www.waterauthority.ky/
Cuba CUP 26.50 0.15 3.78 http://www.hidro.cu/documentos.htm
Curaçao NAF 1.78 33.17 70.31 http://www.aqualectra.com/en/current-
water-and-electricity-rates
Dominica XCD 2.70 58.37 98.74 http://www.dowasco.dm/
Dominican
Republic DOP 39.80 6.31 7.01 http://coraasan.gob.do/Informaciones/
TarifasComerciales/tabid/61/Default.aspx
Jamaica JMD 89.00 2.85 10.70 http://www.nwcjamaica.com/RATES.asp
Martinique EUR 0.78 14.26 . http://observatoire-eau-martinique.fr/
prix-de-leau
Montserrat XCD 2.70 48.60 75.60 http://www.mul.ms/index.php/customer-
interface/water-subscription-details
Puerto Rico USD 1.00 4.16 5.78 http://www.acueductospr.com/
MICUENTA/estructura_tarifaria.htm
Saba & St.
Eustatius ANG 1.78 20.99 53.82 http://www.nvgebe.com/CustomerCare/
MyBill/FuelClauseandRates.aspx
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Caribbean Studies Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93
open holding ponds, are mostly run by private enterprises; however, as
the practice becomes more common, it will be of benefit to promote the
consistent and frequent monitoring of their practices, for safety.
Various land use practices that involve lack of proper sewage man-
agement, especially in suburban areas, have severely deteriorated the
quality of the already limited brackish water supplies of some islands
(van Sambeek, Eggenkamp and Vissers 2000). For example, in Antigua
and Barbuda, as well as in Aruba, rainfall is harvested in small dams
for agricultural activities. This practice only provides for a limited local
consumption in the immediate areas around the small dams themselves.
Although limited in its scale, this collected rainfall is the most cost-
effective water source for small-scale farmers to use for agriculture due
to the high cost of using potable water produced from desalinization
or from groundwater pumping. It is precisely because of the inherent
economic costs involved in pumping, and the associated environmental
risks, that the use of groundwater resources in Cuba is very limited.
In the southern coast of Cuba, particularly the cities of Pinar del Río,
La Habana, and Sancti Spiritus, there has been a proven incidence of
saltwater intrusions into freshwater aquifers. Taking into consideration
that most of Cuba’s aquifers drain to the sea instead of alluvial valleys
and rivers, the potential for saltwater intrusion is greater than in other
islands (Cuba 2001). It is thus evident that, in the insular Caribbean,
there are pressing needs for the development of effective storage strate-
gies for surface waters and careful groundwater management programs.
Needless to say, as the Caribbean becomes increasingly urbanized,
it is necessary to make greater investments, not only in the local water
Country
unit
To 1 USD
Domestic
Commercial
Resource for delivered, piped water costs
and tariffs
St Maarten / St
Martin ANG 1.78 20.99 53.82 http://www.nvgebe.com/CustomerCare/
MyBill/FuelClauseandRates.aspx
St. Kitts & Nevis XCD 2.70 21.60 54.00 http://www.cawasa.org/nevis/
St. Vincent &
The Grenadines XCD 2.70 17.55 40.50 http://www.cwsasvg.com/cwsanewrates.
html
Trinidad &
Tobago TTD 6.28 41.67 83.35 http://www.wasa.gov.tt/, as of 2008.
US Virgin Islands USD 1.00 19.28 21.87 http://www.viwapa.vi/Customers/
RatesFees/ScheduleofFees.aspx
7DEOHFRQWLQXHG.
FRESHWATER RESOURCES IN THE INSULAR CARIBBEAN... 69
Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93 Caribbean Studies
delivery infrastructures, but also in the management of storm waters,
wastewaters and sewage. Currently, the infrastructure needed to achieve
these goals is not present in many islands, with only a few urban and
tourism-associated facilities having them; in contrast, many rural and
older suburban areas have a failing and insufficient infrastructure to
manage the water supply and used waters (Scatena, Ortiz and Blanco-
Libreros 2008; Cashman, Nurse and John 2010). Failing to properly
manage waste waters and rainfall runoff has been proven to exert a
direct, negative impact on coastal ecosystems.
Because they are highly valued for their fisheries and as tourism
destinations, many Caribbean islands have incorporated, as part of their
national agendas, the need to protect and improve coastal resources,
including coral reefs. What many island governments need to address
is the fact that the health and functionality of coastal and marine
ecosystems, in the long run, is highly dependent on, and intrinsically
connected to, their freshwater and wastewater management decisions.
River landscapes, river edge vegetation (riparian) and the forest cover
of headwaters are all important components that must be accounted for
in a strategic management plan that would maintain and improve the
water quality of streams and rivers, while also significantly reducing the
delivery of eroded sediments to coastal and valley areas. Undoubtedly,
the effective management of watersheds and their lands will yield posi-
tive effects on a larger scale, including with regards to coastal systems.
Beside protecting and managing watersheds and all their encompass-
ing lands, Caribbean islands must also incorporate natural rainwater
accumulation and freshwater recharge into their water resources man-
agement plans. If natural catchment areas were maintained to facilitate
proper rainwater recharge, other Caribbean islands would probably
develop a greater usage of their groundwater resources. As occurs else-
where, rainfall could have the potential to effectively recharge freshwater
and maintain brackish groundwater in Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire,
rather than resorting only to the costly process of desalinization, which
not only places an economic burden on these islands, but it also comes
at a great environmental cost.
Caribbean islands should also consider investing in alternative
energy sources for the treatment and purification of water (like solar
water treatment plants), and on protecting lands to serve as alternative
storage sites for freshwater. Desalinization is currently too expensive and
might exclude users such as small-scale and subsistence farmers. Water
conservation practices must be researched, tested, and implemented to
improve the agricultural and tourism practices of the region.
Another fundamental pillar that requires continued investment is
providing accessible education opportunities to implement Integrated
TAMARA HEARTSILL SCALLEY
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Caribbean Studies Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93
Water Resources Management (e.g., Puerto Rico’s water bill provides
conservation tips and reports on quality, Cuba’s outreach materials on
decreasing water demand, St. Lucia’s exchange of farmers’ livelihoods
from land-eroding ganja-growing practices to sustainable flower farm-
ing), with the purpose of promoting practices and cultural awareness
toward best practices of water and watershed management (Cuba 2001;
John 2006; Scatena, Ortiz and Blanco-Libreros 2008). These education
efforts should contemplate agricultural practices to minimize erosion
and protect aquifer recharge areas (John and Firth 2005). Because
water access for all users in many islands cannot be guaranteed year-
round, water conservation and reuse initiatives must be a priority in the
Caribbean agenda as part of Integrated Water Resources Management
(Box 1).
As an additional note, in teaching water resources management
Box 1. International water resources; Concepts and principles
Adapted from:
<http://www.gwp.org/The-Challenge/What-is-IWRM/Dublin-Rio-Principles/>
Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM):
The formal concept of integrating water for people, water for food, water for nature, and
water for industry and other uses. The Technical Committee of the Global Water Partnership
(GWP) defines Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) as a process which pro-
motes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in
order to maximize economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromis-
ing the sustainability of vital ecosystems and the environment.
There are various principles and approaches relevant to IWRM, each having suitable ap-
plication. However, IWRM is primarily guided by the Dublin Principles that emerged from
the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de
Janeiro in 1992.
The Dublin Water Principles (1992)
(i) Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development
and the environment.
(ii) Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach,
involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels.
(iii) Women play a central role in the provision, management and safeguarding of water.
(iv) Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an
economic good.
IWRM recognizes that water is an integral part of the ecosystem, a natural resource, and a
social and economic good, whose quantity and quality determine the nature of its utiliza-
tion. It is a comprehensive approach to the development and management of water, address-
ing its management both as a resource and the framework for provision of water services.
FRESHWATER RESOURCES IN THE INSULAR CARIBBEAN... 71
Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93 Caribbean Studies
and conservation to younger generations, educational initiatives must
transmit knowledge regarding “Mountain Ridge to Coral Reef” pro-
cesses and the connection of watershed lands to water resources (Gomi,
Sidle and Richardson 2009). Becoming aware of the connection between
mountains and coastal ecosystems, not only helps us to understand where
freshwater comes from and how it reaches our homes, but it also teaches
us about the importance of using our freshwater sources sustainably.
If freshwater is perceived as an unlimited resource, it will be wasted,
whereas acknowledging water as a vital resource that must be used wisely
directly leads to conservation of the resource (Corral-Verdugo, Bechtel
and Fraijo-Sing 2003).
To summarize: All in all, it is imperative for all Caribbean islands to
improve management strategies regarding freshwater resources, taking
into account the links between changes in land cover, consumption
trends, and economic growth (Ortiz-Zayas and Scatena 2004; Cashman
and Daniel 2008). In doing so, Caribbean freshwater resource man-
agement strategies must adapt to the development and modification
of landscapes, as changes in land cover are concomitant to changes in
freshwater catchment and recharge areas (John and Firth 2005).
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Caribbean islands span a great range of conditions in terms of
access to freshwater resources. Some islands have no permanent flow-
ing streams, while others have navigable inland waters. Furthermore,
there are many intermittent or seasonal streams and rivers in the insular
Caribbean, partly because of the geological nature of the islands, many of
which have porous karst substrates, and also due to the effect of seasonal
precipitation patterns. For most Caribbean islands, rainfall seasonality
means a relatively dry period from December to March (Taylor et al.
this issue). It is important to note that over the last century, annual
precipitation has declined in the Caribbean, and although occasional
intense rainfall events have increased, seasonal drought conditions
remain common (Litner et al. 2012; Taylor et al. this issue). As changes
in rainfall seasonality continue to take place in the Caribbean, so do
changes in the region’s land cover and expansion of urbanized areas, all
of which, in turn, affect freshwater resources.
In terms of water resources capacity, the islands of Cuba, Hispan-
iola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, as opposed to smaller islands, may
potentially store larger amounts of freshwater in constructed dammed
reservoirs, but they also have many constraints when it comes to distrib-
uting water and maintaining the delivery infrastructure. In the islands
with higher elevation ranges (i.e. taller mountains), there are relatively
TAMARA HEARTSILL SCALLEY
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Caribbean Studies Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93
more water resources because mountains can “trap” rain clouds and,
thus, retain localized rain events of orographic origin (Box 2). The rain
that is “trapped” and slowly released in the mountains contributes to
the formation of various native vegetation types that serve as functional
water sponges: Wetlands. These wetland ecosystems include those that
occur in the mountainous terrain and peaks (as various types of cloud
forests), those in sloped valleys and, most notably, the wetlands in coastal
areas (mangroves and other brackish water vegetation types) that help
to retain and recharge freshwater in the islands’ landscape.
On the other hand, islands with restricted elevation ranges lack
orographic rainfall and, therefore, depend greatly on seasonal precipi-
tation and weather events. These smaller and relatively flat islands—
including Anguilla, the British and US Virgin Islands, Bahamas, the
Box 2. Water resources, terms and definitions.
Adapted from: <water.epa.gov>, A dictionary of technical and legal terms related to
drinking water.
Catchment or Watershed: The area of land that collects, drains, and distributes water to a
stream or river system. This includes both above ground and below ground area.
Orographic precipitation: In the Caribbean, it occurs when warm humid air masses that
come from the ocean reach the windward slopes of mountains. As the humid air masses are
forced to rise up along the mountain they lower their temperatures and as the air mass cools
the water vapor they contain condenses into clouds and localized rainfall occurs.
Wetland: Any type of landform that includes both water that is flowing or standing, either
inundated or saturated, and may consist of different vegetation types. Some of the wetland
vegetation types are mangrove forests, palm forests, herbaceous marshes, and elfin cloud
forests.
Intermittent stream: A stream that will cease to flow seasonally when its water table drops
below the stream bed or below the ground.
Ephemeral stream: A stream that is not dependent on a water table or water below ground,
and only flows based on the amount of rainfall collected, or from overland flow and runoff
in its watershed.
Groundwater: Any type of water that occurs and is in storage underground.
Aquifer: An underground rock formation that can store water. The rock material is porous,
to hold the water, and may be composed of sands, soils or gravels. Aquifers may also drain
to wells or springs. It may contain water with different amounts of total dissolved solids
(TDS, this includes salts and minerals).
Water types:
Brine: Water that has a greater concentration of TDS than ocean water.
Saline: Water with less TDS than brine, may be similar to ocean water.
Brackish: A mix of fresh and saline, water with less TDS than ocean water.
Freshwater: The least amount of TDS, considered drinkable.
FRESHWATER RESOURCES IN THE INSULAR CARIBBEAN... 73
Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93 Caribbean Studies
Cayman Islands, Barbados, St. Martin/Sint Maarten, Aruba, Curaçao
and Bonaire—not only have naturally limited land areas for water
storage, but they also have a drier landscape as a natural starting point
condition. Fortunately, seasonal rainfall events do leave a mark on the
landscape, with the capacity to recharge stream systems, aquifers and
groundwater resources.
In these smaller and flatter islands, the naturally-occurring vegeta-
tion types that contribute most to freshwater retention and subsurface
water recharge are riparian zones and various types of wetlands, both
in the islands’ interior zones and in coastal areas. The dry forests, scrub
forests and seasonally dry forest types are a more common vegetation
type in islands with less elevation. In these islands, the seasonal rains
have sculpted the landscape and formed seasonal watercourses that lead
waters to recharge aquifers, move water along the terrain and eventually
reach the coast.
Dry stream beds are another important feature to take into account
when considering water resources management strategies. Although they
are referred to by many names—in both Montserrat and St. Kitts and
Nevis, they are known as ghauts, in Barbados they are gullies, while in
the US and British Virgin Islands, they are termed guts or ghuts—these
intermittently flowing, or ephemeral, watercourses are seasonally dry
streams and rivers that play an important role in Caribbean hydrologi-
cal systems.
For millennia, the people in Caribbean islands have used these ghuts
as community meeting places and as landscape reference points. In addi-
tion, dry streambeds are often used as trails and roadways, thus adding
to their social value (Gardner, Henry and Thomas 2008). As movement
corridors for people, ghuts often provide a more comfortable, shaded
and protected area to move about in rural areas. Nevertheless, the eco-
logical values of dry streams are often overlooked. The vegetation areas
around ghuts often contain unique herbs, vines and trees not present in
to the rest of the drier landscape. This is partly because ghuts are natural
sinks for leaves, seeds and sediments that collect from upslope areas and
eventually accumulate there from the surrounding terrain (Gardner,
Henry and Thomas 2008).
Because dry streams receive water from the immediate catchment
areas, but only flow seasonally, they can be cooler in temperature and
retain more humidity. The stream channel can have subsurface water
that may flow or accumulate below the ground. In many cases, another
value of land and vegetation areas around ghuts is that they may often
be the only remaining sites in a landscape where the land has not been
completely converted to agriculture or other land uses that may have
otherwise modified native land cover.
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The vegetation along the ghuts and the physical structure of the dry
watercourse itself can serve as spaces for the migration and movement
of fauna, including birds, butterflies and other invertebrates (Steward
et al. 2012). In many dry rivers, fauna continues to use the dry river bed
after water flow has disappeared. After heavy rains and floods, it is in
these ghuts where plant materials such as leaves, fruits and flowers, can
gather, accumulate, and later serve as food sources for invertebrates,
birds, lizards and snakes, among other fauna. In ghuts with vegetation
and a natural stream channel, plant materials and sediments can remain,
and they are not delivered in bulk to estuaries and coastal areas, thus
minimizing sedimentation in other ecosystems.
Dry river beds that are protected with riparian vegetation provide
important services, including the accumulation of sediments and other
plant materials from the catchment lands. In this way, dry rivers with
riparian vegetation contribute to restraining erosion from the surround-
ing landscape and minimizing sediment delivery to coastal zones. The
riparian zone and watercourse itself will accumulate terrestrial materials
that would otherwise directly reach reservoirs, estuaries, coral reefs and
coastal fishing areas and increase turbidity and sedimentation, lowering
water quality and negatively affecting coastal resources.
Finally, although during dry periods there may appear to be isolated
pools of water in the landscape, these maybe seasonally connected to
other stream and river segments. In Curaçao, there are only a few sea-
sonally-connected streams; however, it is in those streams where native
fish and shrimp fauna still exist. If these intermittent stream channels
are destroyed, their associated plants and animals have no other place
to live in the landscape (Debrot and van Soest 2001; Debrot 2003).
In order to guarantee the continued access to freshwater resources,
it is important to understand that stream and river systems in the islands
are permanently undergoing natural changes. Stream seasonality—or
the changes that occur in streams over the seasons—influences fresh-
water availability, and understanding this dynamic component of stream
seasonality leads to better management decisions at the landscape and
watershed scale. For example, factors such as the width, length and con-
nectivity to other stream segments of a river system depend on the season
in which they are observed. Therefore, any decisions about land man-
agement and changes in land uses must take into account the transient
and intermittent state of streams and ghuts. And while springs, wells,
and seasonal pools or isolated pools of water are considered a part of
local culture and history in the islands, and therefore occasionally fea-
tured in local maps, the intermittent or seasonally dry stream channels
are hardly ever taken into account, thus limiting the level of awareness
regarding their ecological importance. In order for management and
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conservation programs to be effective in Caribbean watersheds, dry
streams must be considered and included in local maps and government
guidelines. Failure to do so can have negative consequences for people
and water resources management. Clearly identified channels of water-
flow in the landscape can help divert and distribute water accumulation
from intense rainfall events and, therefore, aid in the management of
waters that would be contributing to floods. Clearly identified water-flow
channels in the landscape also provide better guidance for the recharge
of aquifers, the health of groundwater resources, and for all the hydro-
logic systems that connect downstream (Steward et al. 2012).
$&KDQJLQJ&DULEEHDQ/DQGVFDSH8UEDQ/DQG8VHDQGLWV
(IIHFWVRQ:DWHU5HVRXUFHV
In the insular Caribbean, the changes to the landscape that deliver
most sediment to the coastal zones are unpaved roads, because they
create erosion gullies due to the lack of culverts to manage water flow
(Ramos-Scharrón and MacDonald 2007). In addition, impervious
surfaces in road networks also inflict additional damage by increasing the
amount of sediment and particle-filled waters that are being delivered
to downstream systems and coastal areas, because they do not allow
sediments to settle and accumulate as they would in natural substrate
drainages (Thorn et al. 2001).
In our efforts to channelize the natural flow of water systems within
our cities and urban settings—either by using direct channels, or culverts,
as well with any paved impervious surface—, we are increasing the speed
of water as it moves through the urban system, while allowing for the
accumulation of larger quantities of water (Figure 1). Peak water flows
in urban environments are greater than those of non-urban areas, or
vegetated areas. In addition, paved urban areas are subject to additional
“peak flow” events, so that there are a larger number of floods with a
greater intensity (Cashman, Nurse and John 2010).
Meanwhile, by replacing areas such as forests, pastures and other
ground cover types with built infrastructure and roads, we are also
increasing the amount of impervious surfaces in the landscape. Imper-
vious or impermeable surfaces such as asphalt and cement, which are
present in all built-up and urbanized areas, not only affect water flow
in various ways, but they also impact freshwater systems such as catch-
ment areas, streams, rivers, and estuaries. As natural ground cover is
replaced with impervious surfaces, the direction and quantity of water
flowing is changed, the drainage of overland water flow is concentrated
and increased, while the water-holding and recharge capacities of soils
are severely decreased or totally eliminated.
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Oral history accounts from the US Virgin Islands, Vieques and the
southwest of Puerto Rico mention various local water sources, including
springs and intermittent streams that have dried out completely in the
last decades, presumably due to changes in land cover that altered soil
water recharge capacity (Zack and Larsen 1994).
)URPWKH*URXQGWRWKH6XUIDFH7KH+LJK&RVWRI0DNLQJ8S
IRU)UHVKZDWHU6KRUWDJHV
Many islands in the Caribbean region do not have surface freshwater
as a constant resource. One such case is The Bahamas, where freshwater
resources are derived mostly from groundwaters, which occur in less than
5% of the land (Cant and Weech 1986). The groundwater within the
limestone aquifers contains both brackish water and freshwater lenses
floating on top, also known as Ghyzen-Hertzberg lenses.1 The rainwater
that falls in these islands percolates through the porous limestone sur-
face, and does not accumulate in the surface to form flowing waters, but
rather recharges groundwater sources such as these aquifers. However,
due to the increasing expansion of urban infrastructure, the impermeable
)LJXUH . Schematic of duration and amount of water discharge in relation
to catchment (watershed) land cover/land use. Note differences in peak flow
intensity and time lag. Adapted from Beaulac and Reckhow 1982.
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surfaces of concrete, asphalt and other construction materials transport
rainwater faster, taking it directly out to sea without properly recharg-
ing groundwater resources. Therefore, a key management need is to
delineate and map the watersheds that form these groundwater systems,
and to clearly define where the recharge areas for these groundwater
resources are located in the landscape.
The Cayman Islands, like The Bahamas, also have restricted fresh-
water resources. Their groundwater resources are also limited to thin,
irregularly-shaped freshwater lenses floating on top of denser brackish
and saline water (Ng, Jones and Beswick 1992). It is crucial in islands
like these to carefully manage pumping and extraction rates to maximize
this freshwater resource. All water-pumping activities are monitored in
the Cayman Islands and these demonstrate that, even at low pumping
rates, saline intrusions and increased water salinity can occur due to the
small size, limited storage capacity, and thin and irregular nature of the
freshwater lenses (Ng, Jones and Beswick 1992). In islands without sur-
face freshwater there are brackish and saline water lagoons associated
to wetlands in coastal zones that are part of the natural groundwater
systems, and serve as the source water for desalination.
Groundwater is also an important resource in Antigua and Bar-
buda, as streams and rivers only flow intermittently. Their streams and
rivers may flow for only a couple of months, during and after the rainy
season (Cooper and Bowen 2001). To maximize the seasonal freshwater
resources from rainfall, the people of Antigua and Barbuda have placed
small dams on all major streams and rivers. In these intermittent stream
systems, there are shallow reservoirs that store freshwater. However,
the water in these small reservoirs is often completely consumed during
the dry season. Because they are seasonal resources, these reservoirs
are unable to supply all water needs. For this reason, the water supply is
supplemented by groundwater that is pumped from some 50 active wells.
Since the 1980s, various drought periods have consumed and emptied
reservoirs, and led to the depletion of available groundwater. In addition,
these drought periods have put stress on, and often maxed out, Antigua
and Barbuda’s additional water resources that are supplied by various
active desalinization plants.
Currently, most of the water that is served in Antigua and Barbuda
comes from desalinization, followed by surface reservoirs and, lastly,
from pumping groundwater resources. There are various costs involved
in using groundwater, including the economic cost of pumping, as well
as the environmental cost of overexploitation, especially during drought
periods, thus exacerbating the situation with saline intrusions. At an
additional economic cost, during crisis drought periods, water for domes-
tic consumption (mainly drinking) has been brought in on barges from
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neighboring islands. Government agencies in Antigua and Barbuda, The
Bahamas, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have all resorted to this
practice (Cooper and Bowen 2001).
Honing the Local Freshwater Supply:
Local and Regional Water Reservoirs
While many Caribbean islands do have permanently flowing surface
waters, because of their limited area extent, abrupt topography, and
particular geology there are very few large freshwater reservoirs in the
region. There are some exceptions, as there are some large reservoirs in
Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and moderately sized ones in
other islands such as St. Lucia and Dominica (Geoghegan 2002). How-
ever, often when abundant rain events occur, or there are consistently
rainy years, the freshwater resource cannot effectively be retained in
reservoirs. During intense rainfall, there is an overflow of existing reser-
voirs and dams because most dammed reservoirs are heavily silted and,
therefore, have decreased their water holding capacity. Consequently,
freshwater resources are delivered immediately to the sea and not effi-
ciently stored during many intense rainfall events.
To enhance local supplies and partially mitigate the need for fresh-
water storage, in many Caribbean islands it is customary for house-
holds to collect rainwater in cisterns. In some islands, laws have been
instituted that require that all new domestic buildings have systems to
collect and store “roof top” rainwater, as in the US Virgin Islands and
Barbados (CEHI 2009b). Many households in the insular Caribbean
had already integrated this practice to their dwelling structures and, as
such, depended on rooftop water during times of drought and planned
water shortages alike.
Other reservoir or independent type strategies for assuring access to
water in isolated communities and rural areas are “private aqueducts,”
community-managed aqueducts, or other arrangements. Although many
think that in highly urbanized Puerto Rico all water is served by the
centralized government water authority; the Autoridad de Acueductos y
Alcantarillados (AAA), it is estimated that close to 7% of the population
is supplied water by independent, community-managed systems (Min-
nigh and Ramírez Toro 2001). These systems include a large range of
water supply strategies from pipes directly placed in mountain streams,
to homemade dams and well water pumping. These communities are, in
many cases, creating their own water delivery systems, as they would not
have been reached and served by the AAA. In other cases, these systems
supplement existing deficient water delivery services, or as in Trinidad,
serve communities who used to have water delivery but then were
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abandoned and ignored after system failures (Scheniederman and Red-
dock 2004). Usually, these systems are the only reliable source of water
for communities that may not be served at all due to the topography of
their location, or the infrastructure only serves water in an interrupted
and intermittent unreliable, almost nonexistent schedule (Minnigh and
Ramírez Toro 2001).
There can be private or government incentives for establishing com-
munity aqueducts, reservoirs and urban rooftop water storage systems,
and these are all alternatives currently in practice in many Caribbean
islands (CEHI 2009). Although they represent viable options that supple-
ment or substitute piped water service, careful attention must be given by
local institutions to ensure continued support (by facilitating monitoring,
training and education) so that the water served in these systems can be
effectively and safely managed. In some cases, communities prefer to be
completely separated from centralized and regional piped water delivery
services due to past and current failures of systems, and they believe
that maintaining separate control of their water delivery infrastructure
guarantees access to at least some water (Minnigh and Ramírez Toro
2001). In addition, they have control over their water treatment and
water safety; hence the community’s health is in their own hands.
Water for Agriculture: Using and Reusing
The aim of farmers and the agricultural sector is not to consume
water for the sake of it, but to have the ability to raise livestock and to
grow fruits and vegetables in a profitable way, so as to make a living
and provide sustenance (Gleick 2003). A farmer’s water quality and
delivery needs are very different from those of domestic users and many
industries, which need constant access to purified and potable water.
Improvement in crops per unit of water consumed can be achieved via
many strategies, including relatively simple adjustments as land contour-
ing, altering the timing and length of drip irrigation, and water storage
and reuse strategies, which are all very cost-effective, thus allowing
farmers to grow more, and more efficiently (Falkenmark, Lundqvist and
Widstrand 1989; Gleick 2003).
Although small-scale dams and reservoirs aid in improving access to
water for agricultural and domestic uses, if not constructed and executed
properly, they may come with high environmental costs (March et al.
2003; Baisre and Arboleya 2006; Greathouse, Pringle, and Holmquist
2006). Dams affect the shape of rivers that are located downstream from
them, and alter the natural process of sediment-delivery in alluvial and
coastal valleys that are crucial to maintain soil fertility and agricultural
production. In addition, dams sever the natural ecological connection
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between mountain areas (upstream) and coastal areas (downstream).
Most aquatic species in the insular Caribbean have life cycles that depend
on the free movement between the freshwaters of mountain streams and
the brackish and salt waters of the estuaries and coast. Unfortunately, in
many parts of the insular Caribbean, stream and river segments are still
being dammed and channelized, and water extraction consumes most of
their flow: Thus, natural or unaltered river flows are rare. In most of the
insular Caribbean the environment’s right to water (Box 3) is still hardly
discussed or mentioned at all within formal development plans with few
notable exceptions (e.g., Anguilla 2001; Geoghegan 2002; Scatena 2004;
DRNA-PR 2008).
In the Dominican Republic, for example, dams were built during
the 1970 to 1980s to satisfy the needs for the irrigation of agricultural
lands, energy production, and as reservoirs for human water consump-
tion (De León 2012). Currently, new dams to provide water for irrigation
have been built, and additional plans are in place to create at least four
more dams for energy production. However, there has been little to no
talk on building infrastructure for wastewater treatment, residual and
wastewater management, or water reuse delivery systems, which would
alleviate many, if not all, of the agricultural sector’s water needs (De
León 2012). In this way, the Dominican Republic is not different from
many other Caribbean islands, which hardly invest funds on waste water
management systems (Brown, Geoghegan and Renard 2007).
Furthermore, failing to properly manage waste water and residual
agricultural waters severely endangers existing groundwater resources.
In Puerto Rico, for example, industrial and toxic wastes threaten both
Box 3. Environmental flows, a better minimum flow standard.
Adapted from: Scatena 2004.
How are decisions made as to how much and how often
to divert or pump water from a river?
Who are the users for whom waters are diverted?
Who are the stakeholders that consume river water?
Environmental flow and minimum flow standards are the way to fully and sustainably ad-
dress these questions, with specific considerations for particular streams and rivers. These
flow standards are defined by a combination of conditions and metrics, not just one arbitrary
measure. For a specific stream or river these standards are established with both quantita-
tive and qualitative data that include, but are not limited to, historic water discharge mea-
surements, stream channel morphology (shape, slope, substrate bottom composition), water
quality, needs of aquatic species, needs of riparian fauna and vegetation, and the needs of
all users and stakeholders for the particular stream or complete watershed area. To establish
effective environmental flow standards there must be investment, contribution and participa-
tion from local governments, communities and all freshwater stakeholders.
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surface waters and ground waters, in addition to the more common
agricultural fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides (Hunter and Arbona
1995). Meanwhile, in Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire, sewage and agricul-
tural irrigation waters, as well as seawater, have leaked into the ground
in areas with high population density and agriculture (van Sambeek,
Eggenkamp and Vissers 2000). A monitoring system for the chemical
composition of groundwater was established during the1980s in all three
islands, but it was stopped after less than 20 years in Aruba and Bonaire;
it currently continues only in Curaçao. In Curaçao and Bonaire, very
high concentrations of nitrates, well above 25 mg/l, are found in soils and
groundwaters (van Sambeek, Eggenkamp and Vissers 2000). Nitrates are
related to agriculture and livestock contamination and can cause severe
health problems. Pollution-derived sulphate and potassium are also at
high levels within the groundwater, and this is linked to leakage from
raw sewage, sewage waters and open cesspits.
Desalinization: A Costly Strategy for Fulfilling Water Demands
Desalinization is a costly process that involves removing salt and
other minerals from saltwater. Some Caribbean islands have resorted to
this practice, as a means to make up for their limited freshwater sources.
However, not only is desalinization expensive, but there are still many
issues that are not understood as related to the proper disposal of min-
eral and metal by-products of the process (Voutchkov 2011; Gleick 2006).
Islands such as Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire have turned to ocean
water desalinization in order to meet their domestic piped water needs.
Consequently, the infrastructure and management of used waters and
waste waters have been left behind. In Antigua and Barbuda, where
drought periods have occurred with certain frequency since the 1980s,
the islands have sought to complement their freshwater resources
through various active desalinization plants. Although there are at least
two governmental desalinization plants, the private manufacturing and
tourism sector also owns and operates many small-scale desaliniza-
tion plants in these islands (Cooper and Bowen 2001). Even Cuba,
with potentially ample water resources, has had to supplement surface
water delivery to areas heavily used for tourism with desalinized water
via costly investments and partnerships. Various desalinization plants
(reverse osmosis) have been established in Cuba during the last decades
(Cuba 2001), particularly in areas where surface water delivery was not
possible due to landscape conditions, which also correspond to cays and
peninsulas that are tourism centers.
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Water During the Dry Seasons: Planning Ahead
In order to plan ahead for water shortage situations, many islands
have set water usage priorities for public sectors in order to effectively
manage this resource during drought periods. For example, in Cuba,
the National Water Resources Institute (INRH) has established the
following order of priorities: Domestic population uses, food industry,
agro-fisheries, general industry, root vegetables and greens, sugar cane,
rice, other agricultural uses, and other uses such as tourism (Cuba 2001).
Similar lists of priorities exist for most other Caribbean islands, and
although this does not eliminate the demand for resources, it helps to
plan for water availability.
For most of the insular Caribbean, irrigation is concentrated in
January to April, the dry season. But, of irrigated lands, more than a
million hectares are affected by increased soil salinity due to the usage
of water from wells with elevated salinity (Cuba 2001; FAO 2012).
Other causes of increased soil salinity include obstructions to natural
drainage and improper water distribution systems. Over the past twenty
years, the agricultural lands in the eastern provinces of Cuba, such as
Guantánamo, Granma and Holguín, have been affected by drainage
problems that have caused increased soil salinity. Planning for water
consumption demands needs to incorporate improved irrigation and
more efficient technologies that will decrease damages to agricultural
soils and watersheds. Furthermore, Caribbean islands tourism should,
by default, implement basic practices for responsible water management
in order to account for their seasonally dry environments, such as reus-
ing gray waters, treating sewage, and collecting rainfall (Young-George,
Mahon and Cumberbatch 2007). Moreover, an appropriate management
of groundwater resources includes the identification of recharge areas
for subsurface waters at local scales. One place where such initiatives
are being implemented is Barbados, which is classified as one of the
world’s top 15 most water-scarce countries, based on a renewable water
resource availability of 390 cubic meters per person per year (CEHI
2009b; Johnson and Mwansa 2007). Barbados has proposed a water
augmentation strategy that includes managing not only potable water
usage, but also regulating non-potable water usage and distribution.
This strategy expects to address the demands for agricultural water for
irrigation, which is currently the greatest strain on Barbados’ potable
water supply. Exploring new initiatives to reuse gray waters in agriculture
and tourism, such as the example in Barbados, must be continuously
incentivized and eventually mandated.
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Water for Tourism: Meeting a Greater Demand for Local Water
In the insular Caribbean, the dry season is the period of greatest
demand for the irrigation of agricultural lands, and it coincides with
increased tourism. Although tourism is the main component of many
Caribbean economies and it contributes to economic growth, it also
consumes a great deal of natural resources and its activities do not tread
lightly on local environments.
Many natural areas and parks around the world have set a “carry-
ing capacity”2 standard by limiting the number of visitors per day, per
month or per season. Some Caribbean islands may need to consider this
approach, or a similar option to maintain their freshwater resources and
meet the needs of the various consumers at seasonal scales. There should
not be a competition among the agricultural sector, domestic users and
the tourism sector in terms of water supply and infrastructure needs.
Even though the tourism sector is an important part of the economy—
and sometimes the main source of income—for many Caribbean islands,
water resource development should not by guided solely by the tourism
sector’s needs (Young-George, Mahon and Cumberbatch 2007). The
tourism sector should not have political leverage or preferential treat-
ment when it comes to its share of water resources consumption and
mandated management of waste waters.
Tourists must be aware of the Caribbean water scarcity situation
and local water resources management practices, so that tourism is
maintained as a sustainable enterprise with healthy practices. As a fair
participant to the local economies, the tourism sector must contribute
the full cost of resource consumption and the associated environmental
impacts (Geoghegan et al. 2003). The needs of a self-sustaining environ-
ment along with the needs of domestic users (including agriculture and
industry) should drive the development of water resources that integrate
all participants in its governance (Box 4).
For example, let’s take a look at the case of Anguilla. As the Govern-
ment of Anguilla (2005) has come identify, a major issue in the develop-
ment of the country is the non-integration of environment into tourism.
Tourism in Anguilla, as in many Caribbean islands, is the main source of
economic growth, income and improved living standards. Consequently,
the tourism sector is one of the main consumers of natural resources and
its activities have great impact on the environment. Currently, the Gov-
ernment of Anguilla is planning to implement greater communication
as a general practice on all environmental management practices and
strategies. This includes broader participation in the design, implementa-
tion and decision-making processes (Box 5). Before the consultation and
participation with a broad base of stakeholders is conducted, an overall
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sense of awareness regarding environmental issues must be communi-
cated among the sectors involved, in addition to establishing education
initiatives. Other goals proposed by the Government of Anguilla in rela-
tion to freshwater resources include the following: 1) an approved and
finalized land use plan, 2) waste and effluent management standards,
and 3) to have databases on potable and recreational waters. Anguilla’s
current awareness of a disconnection between tourism activity and envi-
ronmental consequences is a significant step into better environmental
management practices.
In the case of Grenada, island residents have recently become
increasingly concerned about their water quality and the lack of acces-
sibility to freshwater during the dry season, particularly as a result of
increases in water demands from the construction of infrastructure
related to tourism development and irrigated agriculture (Geoghegan
et al. 2003). The Government of Grenada has responded by working
together with the separate agencies that are responsible for water-related
systems: the Forests and National Parks Department and the National
Water and Sewage Authority. Commitment and work among these agen-
cies has been facilitated thanks to the establishment of a national initia-
tive on watershed management. Farmers and domestic users of water
account for twice as much consumption as non-domestic users, which
Box 4. Water Governance; Definitions and principles
Adapted from Peter Rogers, 2002.
Water Governance
The notion of governance, when applied to water refers to the capability of a social sys-
tem to mobilize energies, in a coherent manner, for the sustainable development of water
resources. The notion includes the ability to design public policies (and mobilize social
resources in support of them) which are socially accepted, which have as their goal the
sustainable development and use of water resources, and to make their implementation ef-
fective by the different actors/stakeholders involved in the process. An adequate level of
governance performance is one aspect of the development of water resources, other aspects
being the technical, infrastructure/physical and the economic.
Governance of water is a subset of the more general issue of a society’s creation of physi-
cal and institutional infrastructure, and of the still more general issue of social cooperation,
which reminds us of the problems of defining who are the stakeholders, communication
among stakeholders, the allocating of contributions and outputs, and the creation of institu-
tions.
Governance is a more inclusive concept than government per se; it definitely embraces the
relationship between a society and its government.
Therefore, water governance refers to the range of political, social, economic, and admin-
istrative systems that are in place to allocate, develop and manage water resources and the
delivery of water services for a society.
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include the commercial and industrial sectors, as well as hotels, schools
and public service (Geoghegan et al. 2003). In this case, the inclusion of
farmers in the same domestic water provision system may not be favor-
able, considering that drinking quality, potable water, is not necessarily
the best suited for agricultural needs. Although current metered water
tariffs in Grenada provide funds to operate the National Water and
Sewage Authority, and metered water provisioning has been positively
received by most of the population, many small-scale farmers have been
forced out of business because they can’t afford the costs of metered
potable drinking water for use in farmlands. Gray waters and partially-
treated waters may be substituted in many cases for certain agricultural
crops, but the system infrastructure to deliver these types of water is
currently not in place (Cashman and Ashley 2008). As in most other
Caribbean islands, the maintenance of water delivery infrastructure
in Grenada depends on foreign investments and loans. These foreign
investments are usually destined to develop new potable domestic and
commercial water delivery, and not for the repair of existing systems,
or for water reuse and waste water systems, which are lagging behind
compared to new infrastructure developments.
Water for Our People: Domestic Consumption Demands
Often times, conservation measures are applied in response to gov-
ernment regulations or conservation programs. Usually, public accep-
tance is limited despite the economic benefits, especially in situations
when water shortages are not experienced directly due to the buffering
from domestic cisterns, reservoirs, or tanks (CANARI 2005; Farrell,
Moseley and Nurse 2007). For example, in Cuba, the agency respon-
sible for the functioning of water delivery systems is also chartered with
implementing water reuse and conservation strategies (Cuba 2001). All
industries in Cuba are assessed under water reuse and conservation indi-
cators, and, thus, there have been advances in the basic industries and
agriculture sectors. In urban areas, the reuse of residual waters has been
possible through investments on infrastructure such as holding reservoirs
and lagoons for oxidation, which, in some cases, provide irrigation for
gardens and grounds in tourist areas. The reuse of irrigation waters in the
agricultural sector, particularly sugar, has provided important economic
and conservation gains, as the waters contain reusable fertilizers and
other liquid residuals from the sugar cane processing. These scenarios
should be evaluated for applicability and considered in the near future
for all Caribbean islands, since many share similar needs (Johnson and
Mwansa 2007).
It is clear that water conservation activities are important to
TAMARA HEARTSILL SCALLEY
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Caribbean Studies Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93
maintain and engage all stakeholders in sustainable lifestyles. However,
what seems to not remain clear sometimes is how to translate these water
conservation activities into actions, at the hands of all water consumers
and decision-makers. In terms of conservation attitudes by the people,
in Cuba, for example, educational campaigns have aimed to give specific
and daily-life examples that easily engage the public in these conserva-
tion activities, by making them seem feasible and easy to follow. Only
when we are able to provide easy and clear examples of types of behaviors
and actions, do water conservation behaviors occur (Corral-Verdugo,
Bechtel and Fraijo-Sing 2003). In Cuba, outreach materials from the
PAURA program3have daily life examples and simple illustrations
include how-to instructions for fixing a dripping faucet, and how much
water is wasted/lost depending on the size of the dripping drop (e.g., per
diameter of tube where the drop originates, following an estimate of how
many gallons are lost in a day).
In Grenada, like in many other parts of the Caribbean, rural water
users live in the forested headwaters where water is produced, but are
continuously subjected to water rationing and interrupted services. Rural
waters users are usually aware of the connections between forests and
streams in their surrounding landscapes. On the other hand, perhaps
because they feel disconnected to natural areas, many urban area dwell-
ers have a partial to minimum understanding of the water cycle and their
place in a watershed (Geoghegan et al. 2003). It follows, then, that urban
area dwellers do not see the value of green or forested riparian areas
and their connection to water management, as was found in the case of
urban forest in Puerto Rico (López-Marrero et al. 2011).
It is important to note that, by definition, those who live under
water scarcity conditions tend to inherently practice water conserva-
tion. Corral-Verdugo, Bechtel and Fraijo-Sing (2003) found that higher
income and larger residences are usually greater water consumers and
facilitate further water uses (associated pools and gardens). In the insular
Caribbean, the direct contrast in water consumption practices can be
observed when we compare the local rural residents, who have deficient
and intermittent water access, with the water-enriched environment
experienced by the transient tourist in an all-inclusive facility, with full
time water access. For these different groups, the connections between
water management and conservation needs are perceived differently.
Each Caribbean island has the obligation to provide specific, culturally-
sensitive knowledge and approaches that will, then, pave the way towards
acceptable and integrated water conservation practices to meet societal
needs (John 2006). In this way, people will be prepared to engage in
greater participation and governance of their resources.
FRESHWATER RESOURCES IN THE INSULAR CARIBBEAN... 87
Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93 Caribbean Studies
7KH)XWXUHRI:DWHU0DQDJHPHQW3UDFWLFHVLQWKH&DULEEHDQ
$)HZ5HFRPPHQGDWLRQV
Based on the presented information, as well as within the environ-
mental framework perspective, the following points are recommended
as actionable items and opportunities to further empower the ongoing
efforts related to water resources management in the Caribbean region:
 Achieving a greater degree of community involvement is still
a working goal in the insular Caribbean. Integrating users,
Box 5. Freshwater Resources situation in Haïti
Adapted from Republique D’Haïti, 2001.
Major threats to management of freshwater ecosystems
s /VEREXPLOITATIONOFTHEFORESTRESOURCESANDEROSIONOFDRAINAGEBASINS
Forests have been steadily exploited for basic human needs such as wood for con-
struction, as a source of energy and as an expendable resource in the clearing of land
for agriculture development.
s !TPRESENTOFTHE THIRTYMAJORWATERSHEDSWITHINTHECOUNTRYTWENTYlVEARE
completely deforested. It has been estimated that less than 3% of the land surface cur-
rently remains forested.
s $UETOMASSIVEDEFORESTATIONAND INCREASING EROSIONTHEHYDROLOGICALPROCESS ARE DIS-
rupted
Described as “Phénomène des rivières sèches” is the fact that while many wetlands
and rivers are frequently subject to flooding, many river systems also do not have
permanent water flow.
s -ISMANAGEMENTANDNONSUSTAINABLEUSEOFGROUNDWATER
Aquifers are polluted due to open latrines, quarries, sewage and uncontrolled water
pumping.
Urgent needs
s ,ESSTHANHALFOFTHE(AITIANPOPULATIONHASACCESSTODRINKINGWATER
s .OSYSTEMSOFWASTEWATERTREATMENTAREINEXISTENCE
Appropriate re-use of some of these waters with basic partial treatment could easily
respond to agricultural irrigation needs and help overcome part of the water crisis in
the country.
s 3OLIDWASTEANDAGRICULTURALRUNOFFREPRESENTMAJORSOURCESOFLANDBASEDPOLLUTIONTO
watersheds in Haïti. This is solid waste management for urban areas and lack of proper
latrines in rural areas.
s 7ATERRELATEDDISEASESSTILLPREVAILINRURALAREASWHEREPOTABLEWATERSYSTEMSAREDEl-
cient or non-existent.
s )NVENTORYOFKEYEXISTINGINFORMATIONASRELATEDTORESOURCESSUCHASGROUNDWATERSOURC-
es of drinking water, wetlands, and potential sites for restoration.
s 'EOGRAPHIC )NFORMATION 3YSTEMS TO DESCRIBE LOCATION OF WATER RESOURCES AND CRITICAL
watersheds.
s &INANCIALRESOURCESTODEVELOPPROGRAMSRELATEDTOWASTEWATERSEWAGEMANAGEMENT
and safe drinking water acces.
TAMARA HEARTSILL SCALLEY
88
Caribbean Studies Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93
communities and managers is the only way to move forward.
 More attention needs to be given to stakeholders in rural,
mountainous regions; investing on education and employment
alternatives will pay off with ease of management at the sources
of freshwater systems.
 Local institutions must continuously train the current and future
generations that will work on Integrated Water Resources Man-
agement efforts.
 Ensure continued support by facilitating, monitoring, training
and educating so that the water served in community systems
can be safely managed.
 The mapping of critical watersheds and recharge areas must be
carried out at tandem with development of land use planning
frameworks; these efforts will help to identify water resources
at the local and regional scales, as well as stakeholders, and aid
in management and decision-making processes (Box 5).
 Incentive-based strategies for water management must be put
in place and supported by local governments.
 Awareness through education and monitoring campaigns must
also take place in rapid changing urban and suburban areas,
where most of the waste water management needs are concen-
trated.
 Governments should look to invest in repairing, improving or
upgrading existing delivery systems; it is also imperative that
further investments be sought for developing wastewater man-
agement systems.
 Incentivize and promote architectural and engineering efforts
that improve the management of urban waters, including mini-
mizing runoff and maximizing the recharge capacity of soils to
improve urban river water quality.
 Safe rainfall harvesting, storage and delivery technologies must
be supported, along with the use of alternative (solar) energies
for water-processing.
 Considering that many Caribbean islands suffer from real ineq-
uities in terms of access to safe potable water, compounded by
deficiencies in wastewater and sewage management, measures
should be taken to improve the current situation and reach
sustainable development goals.
A lot will be gained when we change our approach to water as
FRESHWATER RESOURCES IN THE INSULAR CARIBBEAN... 89
Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93 Caribbean Studies
consumable good, to that of reaching the objectives of water usage. There
is no reason to compromise human well-being through strict measures that
enforce making less water available.” Peter Gleick
Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our chil-
dren’s lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we
live on the land.” Luna Leopold
$FNQRZOHGJHPHQWV
The staff of the USFS-International Institute of Tropical Forestry
library and coworkers facilitated documents. Elizabeth Scalley Torres
and Adriana Santiago commented on early stages of manuscript develop-
ment. Fred N. Scatena and two anonymous reviewers provided recom-
mendations and useful comments. Editorial assistance was provided by
Gabriela González Izquierdo. Mariano Solórzano kindly translated the
abstract to French. The findings, conclusions, and views expressed in
this report are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the
views of the U.S. Forest Service.
Notes
1. According to Ng, Jones and Beswick (1992), groundwater freshwater
lenses are a vital groundwater reservoir within Caribbean islands
limestone aquifers. Also known as Ghyzen-Hertzberg lenses, these
freshwater resources are recharged exclusively by infiltration of
rainfall that does not runoff to the sea or is lost due to consumption
(evapotranspiration) by vegetation. Because of the high infiltration
and movement rates of the freshwater in these systems, there is a
very limited capacity to store freshwater in these aquifers. As the less
dense freshwater floats on top, the aquifers are mostly composed of
the brackish and saline water layers. Because of this, both the tides
from the Caribbean Sea and the intensity of rainfall events affect
the location and depth of the freshwater in these deposits.
2. The ecological concept of carrying capacity is defined as the number
of individuals in a population that the resources available (e.g.,
freshwater) in a particular site can support. Carrying capacity is
represented as the plateau or maximum values to maintain stable
population growth without exceeding the capacity of the environ-
ment that would lead the population to crash or oscillate precipi-
tously.
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Caribbean Studies Vol. 40, No. 2 (July - December 2012), 63-93
3. Started in 2005, the Program to Save and Use Water Rationally, or
Programa de Ahorro y Uso Racionaldel Agua (PAURA), at <http://
www.hidro.cu/paura.htm>, has promoted new habits of water con-
sumption and provided practical advice for daily life situations in
order to minimize and eliminate water losses.
5HIHUHQFHV
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... Surface water availability in these islands is strongly influenced by seasonality, with a variable rainy season spanning from May through November and precipitation peaks in May, September, October and November (Bonnin et al. 2006;Mayor 2006;McNair et al. 2008;Martinez et al. 2019). Various permanent freshwater and saline ponds, and a handful of streams and springs occur in the USVI, but most of the lotic systems are seasonal storm drainage temporary creeks and streams locally known as ghuts or guts (Cosner and Bogart 1972;Platenberg 2006;Nemeth et al. 2007;Gardner 2008;Gardner et al. 2008;Heartsill-Scalley 2012). Although a few of these aquatic environments contain some water year round, their volume fluctuates dramatically between rainy and dry months; periodically, most dry out completely. ...
... Phytotelmata are abundant, particularly native and introduced ''tank bromeliads'' that are commonly used in landscaping (Miller 1970(Miller , 1971). Alterations of watershed structure and water demands for consumption and agriculture have influenced most of these environments over the past century, and some ghuts and ponds have virtually disappeared (Chase and Hobbs 1969;Johnston 1981;Platenberg 2006;Gardner 2008;Heartsill-Scalley 2012). ...
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The first freshwater species from the US Virgin Islands (USVI) was described 190 years ago, but research on inland aquatic animals, particularly invertebrates, remains limited. Due to a complex history of European colonization in the Caribbean, natural history writings about inland aquatic diversity for the USVI began almost 250 years later than those from elsewhere. Those early writings were produced primarily by clergy and largely recorded indigenous knowledge from other islands. Proposed in the first natural history by West in 1793, and reinforced later by Ledru in 1810, an assumption emerged that Puerto Rico and USVI faunas were almost identical. This partially explains the paucity of work in almost all aquatic faunal groups but birds. We review the history of inland aquatic faunal observations and studies in the USVI, from pre-Columbian traditions to recent faunal assessments. We discuss the pivotal Scientific Surveyof Porto Rico and the Virgin Islands and the importance of local and foreign naturalists and taxonomists for our understanding of aquatic biota. Since 1900, 155 articles included observations on USVI inland aquatic animals, without clear trends toward increased or decreased publication output since the 1960s. Taxonomic bias toward studies on insects and birds, and geographic bias toward vertebrate work from St. Croix, are evident. Descriptive articles overwhelmingly outnumber manipulative ones. Despite overlap between USVI and Puerto Rican inland aquatic vertebrate faunas, recent surveys from St. Thomas have documented many new records and undescribed aquatic invertebrates. The historical assumption that the two faunas are equivalent appears to depend on taxonomic context. This hypothesis requires further evaluation.
... Mapping of freshwater resources and their associated landscape features, including potential catchment areas, small-scale watersheds, and floodplains is of vital importance to understanding the Caribbean region [1,2] ridge to reef ecosystem connections and more globally for developing research on disturbance along hydrologic networks [3]. Freshwater in the Caribbean is a complex resource that can be scarce and limited for consumption [4], affect forest ecosystems and aquatic fauna [5,6], or become a management challenge during storms and floods [7]. In mountainous areas, headwater streams are prone to flash floods with a rapid onset of high flows and then an equally rapid return to baseflow conditions [8]. ...
... Flash-flood hazard potential and risks assessment identification in headwater areas could also be improved [34]. Additionally, work quantifying connectivity and drought conditions of stream reaches in relation to the ecology of migratory aquatic fauna [4,5,35] can elucidate the role of headwater streams previously not identified in hydrological maps. The re-delineated and densified hydrological networks presented here provide more accurate depictions of discharge and stream habitats, opening up new lines of knowledge development and practical applications. ...
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Streams and rivers of the Luquillo Experimental Forest, Puerto Rico, have been the subject of extensive watershed and aquatic research since the 1980s. This research includes understanding stream export of nutrients and coarse particulate organic matter, physicochemical constituents, aquatic fauna populations and community structure. However, many of the streams and watersheds studied do not appear in standard scale maps. We document recent collaborative and multi-institutional work to improve hydrological network information and identify knowledge gaps. The methods used to delimit and densify stream networks include establishment and incorporation of an updated new vertical datum for Puerto Rico, LIDAR derived elevation, and a combination of visual-manual and automated digitalization processes. The outcomes of this collaborative effort have resulted in improved watershed delineation, densification of hydrologic networks to reflect the scale of on-going studies, and the identification of constraining factors such as unmapped roadways, culverts, and other features of the built environment that interrupt water flow and alter runoff pathways. This work contributes to enhanced knowledge for watershed management, including attributes of riparian areas, effects of road and channel intersections and ridge to reef initiatives with broad application to other watersheds.
... [6][7][8][9][10] Anguilla is one of the sparsely populated dryto-semi-arid Leeward islands in the northerly Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean region and has no any natural sources of fresh water. 11 Majority of residents of Anguilla rely on roof harvested rain water for drinking which is probably contaminated with bacterial pathogens. 12 Therefore, the objective of this study was to assess the contamination of indicator bacteria in roof-harvested rain water in Anguilla. ...
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... In terms of alternative water sources, rainwater harvesting (RWH) in Grenada, and solar-powered desalination in Antigua and Barbuda [10] have been adopted. However, the options are utilized at varying degrees and are implemented at different levels based on a country's water resources availability, accessibility, costs, and water governance [10,12,13]. ...
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Globally, freshwater resources are threatened, resulting in challenges for urban water supply and management. Climate change, population growth, and urbanization have only exacerbated this crisis. For the Caribbean, climate change through the impact of increasing temperatures and rainfall variability has resulted in more frequent and intense episodes of disasters including droughts and floods which have impaired the quantity and quality of freshwater supplies. Using Caribbean-specific climate forecasting, it is shown that rainfall totals in Kingston, Jamaica, are expected to reduce by 2030 and 2050 under two RCPs. In addition, the timing of the primary rainy season is expected to shift, potentially impacting water supply security. Analysis of the potential of rainwater harvesting (RWH) to augment supply and enhance water supply resilience shows that in two communities studied in Kingston, it can contribute up to 7% of total water supply. Household storage requirements are about 1 m 3 per household, which is feasible. RWH offers the potential to contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation measures at a household level. Policy, incentives, and increased awareness about the potential of RWH to meet non-potable household demand in Kingston must be improved, as well as efforts to reduce the currently unreasonably high levels of non-revenue water in order to move towards an integrated, sustainable, and climate-resilient urban water supply strategy for the city.
... Bonaire Lacourt (1955Lacourt ( , 1968 Waterworks of Kingston Collado et al. (1984) The semi-arid Lesser Antilles, unlike the Greater Antilles, have ephemeral wetlands of small extension, subjected to strong marine salinization and organic discharges due to high anthropic pressure (Van Sambeek et al. 2000;Scalley 2012). Lacourt (1955)'s study on freshwater bryozoan species in the Leeward Islands, despite the scarce ecological data, showed that the temporal stability of aquatic ecosystems and the degree of salinization are factors of great importance for the distribution of freshwater bryozoan species (Fig. 3). ...
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Citation: Carballeira R, Romay CD, Ramos A (2020) First record of a freshwater bryozoan species in Cuba: Plumatella repens (Linnaeus, 1758) (Phylactolaemata, Bryozoa). ZooKeys 918: 151-160. https://doi. Abstract The discovery of Plumatella repens floatoblasts in wetlands of the La Niña Bonita Reservoir and the Cié-naga de Zapata Swamp, Cuba, constitutes the first record of a freshwater bryozoan species on the island and extends the distribution range of the species in the insular Caribbean. Unlike the inland waters of the Lesser Antilles the greater availability of water and lower salinity are likely the main factors that determine the distribution of P. repens in the Greater Antilles.
... Bonaire Lacourt (1955Lacourt ( , 1968 Waterworks of Kingston Collado et al. (1984) The semi-arid Lesser Antilles, unlike the Greater Antilles, have ephemeral wetlands of small extension, subjected to strong marine salinization and organic discharges due to high anthropic pressure (Van Sambeek et al. 2000;Scalley 2012). Lacourt (1955)'s study on freshwater bryozoan species in the Leeward Islands, despite the scarce ecological data, showed that the temporal stability of aquatic ecosystems and the degree of salinization are factors of great importance for the distribution of freshwater bryozoan species (Fig. 3). ...
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The discovery of Plumatella repens floatoblasts in wetlands of the La Niña Bonita Reservoir and the Ciénaga de Zapata Swamp, Cuba, constitutes the first record of a freshwater bryozoan species on the island and extends the distribution range of the species in the insular Caribbean. Unlike the inland waters of the Lesser Antilles the greater availability of water and lower salinity are likely the main factors that determine the distribution of P. repens in the Greater Antilles.
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