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The Water & Sewerage Corporation of The Bahamas: Islands in the stream

The Water & Sewerage Corporation of The Bahamas: Islands in the stream

“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” So said Benjamin Franklin over 250 years ago. Mr. Franklin was extremely prescient. In 2016, cities and countries all over the world face the reality of diminishing clean water supplies. The Bahamas are no different. The stunningly beautiful Carribbean nation faces many of the same challenges surounding water provision that many more high-profile cases confront.

Indeed, providing clean and safe water in the Bahamas comes with its own set of challenges: The island has a population of just under 400,000, but welcomes around half a million tourists to its shores every year. Although it welcomes them with open arms, the influx creates an obvious strain on the nation’s water resources. The organization whose role it is to step up to this challenge is the Bahama Water and Sewage Corporate (WSC).

A brief history of the WSC

A common misconception surrounding water is that islands are blessed with it. And while the Bahamas has some of the world’s most famous coastlines, it has traditionally had a challenge in providing enough freshwater for its citizens. Until relatively recently, the majority of Bahamians have dug shallow wells and collected water from rooftop drainage, sinkholes and pits.

An escalating need to address the situation forced the government to develop a longer-term strategy to the water shortage issues and the WSC was born 40 years ago in 1976 by government decree. At that time, the Bahamas had a little under half its current population and much lower demand from industry for water usage but it was still a time of severe water rationing and growing demand.

Initially, the new corporation had the mandate of managing and growing the water supply in the two population centres of the islands: New Providence and North Andros. However, by 1989, the mandate was expanded so that it included the responsibility for the control, protection, and use of the water supply throughout the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.

Slowly but surely, WSC has managed to dramatically improve the Bahamas’ water quality ad distribution systems – to the extent that the average tourist wouldn’t notice any material difference from their own country’s water supply. But such is the extent of the work that WSC have carried out over the years – something in the region of $110 million in total – and leading to an increase in the islands’ output of quality water from about 1 million gallons per day in 1976 to about 16 million in 2012.

Community involvement

40 years in the community has led to the WSC becoming an integral part of the Bahamian life. Its Water Month in June 2016 was an example of how it moves outside the confines of its assigned mandate to contribute in other ways to life on the islands. It included visits to primary schools on the islands and various family events, all with the aim of educating islanders on water’s ongoing importance.

Public Affairs Manager at WSC, Visna Armbrister said: “The most engaging and satisfying teaching happens when students are transported beyond the four walls of the classroom and begin to make connections between their own experiences and the wider world. WSC is happy that we had the opportunity to speak with and listen to students about the importance of water in our lives. We had an exciting time, sharing an important message.”

Elsewhere, the WSC was also involved in regenerating Community Park on International Good Deeds Day earlier in 2016. Joined by volunteers of Miya Bahamas, a team of WSC workers fixed swings, restored benches, mowed lawns and planted flowers in a small but meaningful statement to the surrounding communities. 2016 marked the 10th year of the Good Deeds Day for WSC and previous gestures by the firm included enhancing the facilities at the Unity House Home for the Aged and working on restorations at the Elizabeth Estates Children’s Home.

Further downstream

The WSC recently announced that it had reduced its non-revenue water losses by more than 50%, saving nearly 3 billion gallons in the process. The knock-on effect this will have further down the line is considerable. Its introduction of an app in 2016 for its customers is further testament to how the organization continues to move with the times.

2016 will also see the introduction of a wastewater management plan – a relatively high number of Bahamian sewage treatment plants are still in relatively poor condition, despite the excellent work of the WSC. The wastewater management plan will address this issue for the longer-term. A new water act will also be signed in by the government to address the usage of water by the agricultural sector.

Addressing these challenges will bring increased operational efficiency to the WSC. The organization is already making steady progress on paying off legacy debts, and its continued infrastructure improvements will allow it to continue on this path. The international stereotype of people from the Caribbean is a friendly and relaxed individual who likes to go with the flow. Thanks to the WSC, where freshwater is concerned, there will always be a flow.

 

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