Current drought conditions likely to worsen; residents urged to conserve

Antigua’s main surface water catchment, Potworks Dam, is completely depleted as a result of drought conditions. (Photo courtesy APUA)
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By Elesha George

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A number of variables, some known and some unexplained, are driving the need for water conservation across the country.

Coming off the high of a rainfall surplus for the first three months of 2020, then plunging into the dry season in mid-March has caused the authorities to push for the responsible use of this depleting resource.

“We’re not even getting enough rainfall to recharge personal cisterns because most times it’s just a millimetre or two here and there, spread over wide time frames,” said Director of the Antigua and Barbuda Meteorological Services, Dale Destin. “I’m seeing places around my house that I’ve never noticed because it’s like the house is separating from the ground.”

 Destin said since the latter half of March, “it’s like someone turned off the tap”, with the country witnessing less than an inch of rainfall over the past two months.

For the month of April, he said, the country saw rainfall decrease by a total of over 80 per cent and already for the month of May, the island has experienced more than a 90 per cent total deficit.

While it is the dry season and Destin said there is a lot of evapotranspiration, which means that more water is leaving the earth’s surface compared to the amount of rainfall we receive, there is no present climate feature that would suggest it should be this dry this time of year.

According to the climatologist, the rainfall shortage is only moderate but its effect on agriculture, hydrology and water catchments as well as water resources are “severe”.

“The Atlantic is warmer than usual, which is normally a good thing with respect to getting rainfall but we have just not been seeing the kind of rainfall totals, at least as of late March to present. It’s bad now, and there isn’t much hope with respect to the forecast because the projection is for below normal rainfall going out through July,” he explained.

The main surface water catchment, Potworks Dam,  which normally supplies 30 per cent of demand, has already dried up and other ground and surface catchments are close to drying up.

Historically, the rainfall at this time of the year seldom ever produces enough to recharge catchments and frequent downpours will only make a dent in the amount of water retained by dams and wells.

The possibility of excess rain in July and the following months is of little solace to the people who live here and know that this preferred outcome brings with it fears of an above normal Atlantic hurricane season.

“Things will change I believe, beyond July, because we are forecasting an above normal hurricane season unfortunately, but the same features that would generate an above normal hurricane season, are the same features that would produce above normal rainfall. So, the anticipation is that we will see some good rainfall as we go beyond July,” said Destin.

Meanwhile, the Antigua Public Utilities Authority (APUA) is bracing for increased demand in water supply as the drought worsens.

“We’re basically prepared to see an increase in demand because persons would have had a little bit of water in storage and this is being depleted. They’re using up their supply, so they will now be switching to the public utility distribution system to get water and what we find during this period is that customers are doing a lot of hoarding and so they will turn that pipe directly to their cisterns and want to fill their cisterns,” explained production engineer, Tesfa Francis.

The company has also realized a “slight increase in demand” since lockdowns were initiated because of Covid-19.

Francis said the increased demand is a challenge for the utilities company and can be reduced to an extent, if people install storage tanks that will prove useful when the downpour of rain comes.

For the people who store water in buckets or containers, APUA advises that they put few drops of household bleach into the water to prevent recontamination.

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