Desalination Solutions in the Caribbean

Clean drinking water, Haiti, World Bank

Haiti gets clean drinking water

In addition, changes in weather patterns in the Caribbean due to climate change are exacerbating existing water challenges. 

Desalination is not new to the Caribbean, but extracting clean water from seawater is becoming an increasingly integral part of the region’s search for water security.

Since 2007, 68 new desalination plants have been built across the Caribbean, which now boasts an installed capacity of 782,000 cubic metres of purified water per day, according to the Caribbean Desalination Association.

Entirely dependent on technology

Some islands, such as St. Martin, St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands, where UK-based water treatment firm Biwater just inaugurated a new $43m (£28m) plant with a 10,400 cubic metres daily capacity, are almost entirely dependent on the technology for their domestic water supply.

But huge amounts of power are required to operate commercial-scale desalination – power that is often produced by importing expensive fossil fuels.

With large natural gas deposits offshore, Trinidad and Tobago is a rare exception to such import dependency. The fact that the twin island country is home to the largest reverse osmosis desalination plant in the Western hemisphere – Desalcott – is therefore perhaps no coincidence.

Sealive

Alongside its dependency on expensive – not to mention carbon-intensive – power supply, environmentalists have raised concerns over the impacts of large-scale desalination on marine life. In particular, open intakes of seawater can cause fish and other larger organisms to become trapped.

A potentially safer alternative lies in subsurface intakes from coastal aquifers, a technique that extracts seawater from beneath the seafloor or beaches. This is now being carried out in a handful of Caribbean locations.

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