Valuing a precious commodity – Water
Krystal Ganaselal – Information Officer/Public Relations
Institute of Marine Affairs
The water that exists today has been around for hundreds of millions of years, and the water you drank earlier, may perhaps have been the same water that quenched the thirst of dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago! Celebrated on 22nd March annually, World Water Day 2021 is themed ‘Valuing Water’ and asks people ‘What does water mean to you? How important is it in your home and environment?’ We are all dependent on this precious resource for daily tasks and use it for a variety of purposes. Having personally experienced the result of a harsh dry season last year, with a lack of pipe-borne water for more than three weeks at my residence, I became increasingly appreciative of this commodity.
The blue planet
Earth is a water planet, with 71% of its surface covered by water and 97% of the Earth’s water contained in the oceans. Freshwater is therefore available in only a small percentage, less than 3%. Out of this 3%, the majority (almost 80%) of the earth’s freshwater is inaccessible or locked up in glaciers, polar ice caps, or lies too far beneath the earth’s surface to be economically extracted or is polluted. Readily available and accessible freshwater accounts for less than 1%. What does this mean? If we were to imagine all of the world’s water contained within 1 litre, we can think of a syringe that is marked with millilitre measurements and imagine measuring less than 1 ml, (approximately 0.003ml) and this would then give us an idea of the amount of useable freshwater available to us.
Through the hydrological (water) cycle, no new water has been created as our planet’s water is constantly moving from one place to another and continually changing in form. Interestingly, water is the only natural substance found in all three physical states; liquid, solid and gas. This universal solvent travels through the various stages of the cycle, and can be explored beginning with the ocean. Water droplets on the surface of the sea or rivers are exposed to the warmth of the sun, where these droplets evaporate, changing state from liquid droplets to a gas, water vapour, as the warm, moist air rises. Condensation occurs when the water vapour is changed back to water droplets as the air becomes cooler with passing strong winds, forming clouds. These water droplets get bigger and heavier, connect with each other and eventually precipitation occurs, as these droplets fall as rain, reaching surfaces on the sea and land.
How could a resource that is so vast be limited?
Aquifers or groundwater which are the storehouses of the Earth’s water is naturally replenished though rainfall and surface water that has found its way in pores, cracks and spaces between rock particles, becoming saturated. This water can be accessed through pumping or wells. Although water returns to the Earth through the water cycle, it may not always be returned in the same quantity or quality or even the same place. According to a statement made by the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service declaring the start of 2021 dry season, Trinidad and Tobago is expected to experience ‘a less drier than average dry season across the islands with above average rainfall conditions’, however an above average rainfall does not translate to an abundance of rainfall.
Impacts of climate change and freshwater availability
In Trinidad and Tobago, the average daily consumption per capita is estimated at 82 gallons per day, as compared to an average of 46 gallons per day used regionally, according to the Chief Executive Officer(Ag.), Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) at a media briefing in May 2020. Based on the demand of water and its current supply, one of the reasons for water scarcity is that during the dry season, reservoir levels are low, there is unpredictable rainfall supply along with challenges such as climate change and pollution. Decreased precipitation therefore negatively affects groundwater reserves, reducing the availability of surface water and potable water. Sea level rise which is a result of climate change and excessive ground water extraction can also lead to salt water intrusion into freshwater aquifers. This intrusion further reduces the availability of freshwater. Also associated with climate change impacts are changes in rainfall patterns that are experienced in Trinidad and Tobago. These are shorter, intense showers, which can lead to flooding. There can also be longer periods with low rainfall, leading to drought conditions.
Additional negative impacts on water resources include siltation, run-off from domestic waste and sewerage, chemicals, toxic waste and agrochemicals such as fertilisers and pesticides, which all affect the quality and quantity of our freshwater resources and its availability to us for everyday usage. There is also water that is lost as a result of aged infrastructure and the leakages that occur across the country. Growing concerns by persons experiencing challenges with a regular water supply have resulted in citizens returning to previously used methods from decades ago for the collection of water, which are rainwater-harvesting methods. Communities that experience severe water shortages throughout Trinidad and Tobago are considered to be at high points or on the extremities of the Water and Sewerage Authority’s distribution system.
Global Water scarcity
In 2010, the United Nations (UN) recognised the basic human right to safe, clean, accessible and affordable water and sanitation for all, for personal and domestic uses. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 seeks to ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’. Globally, water use is increasing, and regions are reaching the limit at which water services can be sustainably delivered. Global demand is mainly driven by agriculture and food production to feed the growing population. With an estimated 7 billion people on our planet needing water to sustain life, our freshwater resources are being utilised at a faster rate than it can be naturally replenished. In possibly 30 years, 3 billion people around the world will experience severe water scarcity. With population growth, climate change, and poor water management we are headed towards a water crisis. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, sanitisation has become heightened and water resources are essential to prevent and protect human health.
In Trinidad and Tobago, a draft Integrated Water Resources Management Strategy (IWRMS 2018) was submitted for Government’s approval, and this document includes promoting the coordinated development and management of water resources. Simple activities that persons can do in Trinidad and Tobago to improve water security include:
- turning off the tap while brushing your teeth
- taking shorter showers and replacing the showerhead with an ultra-low-flow version
- repairing dripping faucets in your household
- using a bucket while washing the car and
- minimising the water used on lawns – water lawns during early morning hours when temperatures and wind speed are the lowest, which reduces loss from evaporation.
Let us attentively evaluate the ways in which we use and manage our water resources. Changing our mindset and our behaviour to only use what we need, and not wasting the resource is critical in avoiding global future conflicts. Let us safeguard our limited water resources and practice water conservation before it all runs out. Every single drop counts.
http://www.ttparliament.org/committee_business.php?mid=19&id=230&pid=28 . Accessed on 2nd March 2021.
Water and Education: General Guide for Teachers of the Americas and the Caribbean. 1st edition. United States: UNESCO International Hydrological Programme, Regional Science Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Project WET International Foundation. 2008.
‘WASA exploring increasing storage capacity’ Newsday. 28th May 2020. https://newsday.co.tt/2020/05/28/wasa-exploring-increasing-storage-capacity/
https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal6 United Nations. Accessed 14th March 2021.