In the early days, water in Barbados was derived entirely from ponds, springs, water wells and rainwater tanks. The poorer people were generally supplied from ponds and shallow wells while those who were well off got their water from wells and rainwater tanks. Water from wells had to be hauled up by rope and bucket because there were no pumps. The wells were the only reliable source of water for the rural population during periods of extended drought.
When Bridgetown was established as a city, there was no convenient distribution of water to the public; drinking water was obtained from ‘depression’ springs in the vicinity, including some on the grounds of the current “Queen Elizabeth Hospital” but mainly from Beckles Spring on the Bay Estate, close to Upper Bay Street. An official report published in 1858, tells us that this spring had an output of 289,000 gallons of water every 24 hours, and adds that the owners of the property sold the water to persons who carted it around Bridgetown in casks, selling it at two cents for four gallons.
The supply of water to the island has certainly improved between the 19th and 20th centuries. Perhaps though the most significant events have been the early plans for piped water in Bridgetown, marked by the creation of the magnificent fountain that stands there today, and the gradual but reliable supply of water to all parts of the island via several pumping stations, re-pumping stations and reservoirs. One of the early highlights was the design and construction of the Belle Pumping Station between 1926 & 1944, which was and continues to be the largest supplier of water to the island. In 1944, the first electrically driven pump was installed at the Belle. Prior to this, the pumps were steam driven.
The 20th century has seen the development of rigorous standards for the use of our potable water – the almost folk-legendary status of our extensive standpipe system, the improvement of our water distribution network and most significantly of late, the gradual depletion of our water reserves, which now places Barbados on the list of water scarce countries in the world. One of the parameters by which a country is judged by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), is its per capita water resource availability. If a country has less than a thousand (1,000) cubic metres (m3) per capita per year, it is adjudged to be a water scarce country. Barbados has been so designated, as its available water resources are currently rated at three hundred and ninety (390) m3 per person. One (1) cubic metre is equivalent to two hundred and twenty (220) gallons.
The office of the Waterworks Department of Government was located on Coleridge Street, Bridgetown until the early seventies (70s). In 1971, the Drawing Office, one of its departments was relocated to a new office building in the Pine and in about May of the following year (1972) the remaining departments and staff were relocated as well.
The Barbados Water Authority (BWA) is a Statutory Body established by an act of Legislature to replace the Waterworks Department of Government. It commenced operations on April 1, 1981. It is the entity in Barbados charged with supplying the island with potable water as well as the provision of wastewater treatment and disposal services to the sewered areas of Bridgetown and the SouthCoast. The Authority is also responsible for the monitoring, assessment, control and protection of the water resources in the public’s interest.
The BWA currently supplies approximately 35 million gallons of water per day to just over 100,000 customers. Its potable water supply network comprises 2 spring sources, 22 well sources (17 sheet water wells & 5 stream water wells), 8 boreholes, 27 reservoirs and 14 re-pumping stations scattered across the island. The network is connected by over 2000 miles of transmission and distribution mains. A Desalination Plant using brackish water as its source water and utilizing the reverse osmosis process was constructed just off the Spring Garden Highway at Freshwater Bay, Brighton, St. Michael and put into operation in 2000. The water produced is mixed with and serves to complement the BWA’s general supply.
BWA currently operates two wastewater treatment plants, the Bridgetown Sewage Treatment Plant and the South Coast Sewage Treatment Plant, which were commissioned in 1982 and 2003 respectively. Sewage treatment and disposal services are provided to 1,420 customers in Bridgetown and approximately 3,000 customers on the South Coast. Planning is at an advanced stage for the construction of a third wastewater treatment facility along the West Coast. This plant should cater to approximately 6,000 customers.
Information compiled by the BWA’s Marketing/Communications Department