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The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is the southern most isles of the
Caribbean, and is completely surrounded by waters of the Caribbean Sea. The two
islands, Trinidad (4,828km²) and Tobago (300km²), both have tropical climates, the
mean temperature averaging 27°C. Both islands experience a dry season between
January and May and a wet season from June to December, although there is
sufficient evidence to suggest that there may be now two wet seasons, but that is a
different story. The annual rainfall in Trinidad is approximately 200cm (40in).

Trinidad lies on the tectonic boundary between the South American and
Caribbean plates, with a geology largely composed of faulted sediments and low-
grade metamorphic rocks. The fissured limestone northwest of the Northern Range
has small springs, while the alluvial deposits within the metamorphic rocks form
coastal aquifers.

To the east, the Port-of-Spain ‘Gravels’ consists of gravels, limestone and

alluvial deposits, which form the coastal Port-of-Spain aquifer and is over 91.4m
(300ft) deep and extremely porous.

Apart from seawater and rainfall, water is also accessible from rivers, swamps,
reservoirs, dams, watersheds, aquifers and mangroves. Ultimately, only 0.014% of the
earth's total volume of water is easily available to us for agricultural, industrial, and
domestic purposes. This water exists in a variety of forms, including surface water,
soil moisture, groundwater, water vapour, and rivers.

Through the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), water is distributed

throughout the republic, but is first treated in its various water treatment plants. The
plants addressed in this project include the following:

• Caroni - 63 million galvanized surface water from a river;

• Navet - 20 million gal/d surface water from a dam impoundment;
• North Oropouche - 20 million gal/d surface water from a river;
• Freeport - 3 million gal/d groundwater plant removing iron; and
• Hollis - 1.2 million gal/d surface water from a dam impoundment

This report will seek to identify the role, function and mandate of WASA,
including, but not limited to, the all too important responsibility it plays in managing and
/ or controlling water pollution. The report will also explore the areas in the country that
are affected by water pollution, as well as offer recommendations to manage and control
the problem.




The Water and Sewerage Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (WASA) is the
sole water and sewerage provider in Trinidad and Tobago and came into being by Act
No. 16 of Parliament in 1965. The mandate extends to the delivery of a safe, reliable
and efficient water supply to satisfy the demand of domestic, agricultural and
industrial customers throughout the country.
The purview of the authority also extends to the sewerage treatment plants and
sewerage systems, the constructing and developing of such further sewerage works, as
it considers necessary or expedient. It also maintains and develops waterworks and
other property related thereto, providing water supplies and administering the supply
of water, and promoting the conservation and proper use of water resources.
There has been a steady increase in the demand for water in the Republic, but
there has not been the proportionate investment in infrastructure and the identification
of alternative sources of supply, with specific reference to the industrial sector.

WASA's future operations are also viewed in the broader context of

Government's developed nation status agenda. The main goal is the requirement for
the population to have access to a reliable and high quality water supply on a 24 hour
/ 7 days per week basis to the entire population, in keeping with the Government's
vision for the country to attain developed world status by 2020. Currently, 26 % of
the population gets a 24/7 water supply; the rest receives water on a weekly schedule.
But there are many communities still without a regular water supply and this is being
addressed through an ongoing development plan.

The Minister of Public Utilities is the line Minister for WASA and both are
aligned to carry out the policy of the Government in relation to water and sewerage
services. Another important responsibility of WASA is the Water Resources Agency,
which reports to the Board but operates separately in managing water resources.

Based on an evaluation on water supply and sanitation development conducted

in 2000 by Evaluacion de Los Servicios de Agua Potable y Saneamiento en las
Americas, a consulting firm worked on "detailing of a clearly articulated water
resource management strategy for Trinidad and Tobago to meet the projected medium
and long term water needs of the country on a sustainable basis."

According to a WASA report, it was stated that at the end of 2005, Trinidad and
Tobago stood well on the way to attaining the United Nations’ Millennium
Development Goal (set for 2015) with respect to achieving adequate drinking water
and sanitation arrangements, thus:

although around 92% of the 1.3 million inhabitants currently have

access to safe drinking water, this supply is only available to
around 26% on an uninterrupted, 24/7 basis. The remainder of
those supplied receive water on a weekly schedule, while a

number of communities are still without a regular supply. Some

30% of the population has a sewerage connection, while 58% rely
on soak-aways or septic tanks and Trinidad and Tobago boasts one
of the most effective water and sewerage systems anywhere in the
Caribbean. But even though WASA, the country’s Water and
Sewerage Authority, produces 200 million gallons of water per
year – twice as much as is consumed in the larger island of
Jamaica – demand continues to grow, especially from industrial
customers. A single steel factory or fertilizer producer might
consume four million gallons alone. Currently the biggest
industrial demand for water comes from methanol production,
which is enjoying a boom thanks to ever-increasing quantities of
natural gas piped from offshore fields (www.wasa.gov.tt/).

WASA Chief Executive Officer, Errol Grimes further states: “Our country is
one of the largest exporters of methanol. Water is a raw material in this production.
They split the water molecule and use hydrocarbons from the oil industry to make
methanol. That is good business for us as the supplier of the raw material.”

Given this state of development, it would be safe to surmise that WASA is

continuing its growth towards its quest for developed world status by the year 2020.
The following chapter will critically analyse the areas in Trinidad and Tobago that are
affected by water pollution.

Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), El Socorro Water Works

Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) Maraval Water Treatment Plant




The term Water Pollution generally refers to the adverse changes in water quality
usually as a result of human activities. It is the contamination of any body of water
with materials that are considered harmful to human health and to the environment.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the problem of water pollution is widespread and

caused mainly by human activities resulting from littering, unsettled quarry wash,
industrial plant and factory waste, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, bush fires,
slash and burn and deforestation, waste oils and untreated or poorly treated sewerage.

This chapter will seek to critically analyse areas in Trinidad and Tobago that are
so affected.

Caroni River bank depicting debris, sediments and young Caiman.

But before we can appreciate the sources of water, we must understand that
water may come from either surface water or ground water. Surface water may be
described as water, which travels or is stored above the ground. This would include
rivers, swamps, reservoirs and the sea, which we should not drink.

Surface water may also include ‘run-off’ water, which is water that runs off of
roofs, guttering, parking lots and roadways. Of course, this water may be
contaminated with trash, oil and other debris. Surface water on the whole needs to be
treated before it can become potable as it contains similar debris, which can easily get
into rivers and reservoirs.

Ground water on the other hand is underground water and may be found in
aquifers, watersheds and springs. Groundwater flows through layers of sand, gravel,
rock and clay, which act as a natural filtration system thereby keeping the water clean
(see illustration below).

Ground water may also become polluted by agriculture in the form of

fertilizers, pesticides and from oil production, refining and toxic chemicals, inclusive
of heavy metals, which wash into the soil and get into aquifers. The disposal of sold
waste in landfill sites such as the Beetham and Claxton Bay dumps are also threats, as
this results in leaching. The Beetham dump, being situated close to the sea, may result
in seepage being transported to the coast thru the adjoining wetlands. Seepage
emanating from poor or inadequate domestic waste particularly sewerage, burial
grounds as well as seepage from leaks emanating from gas station underground tanks,
are also part of the problem, but all in all, ground water does not need as much
treatment as surface water.

Pollution of surface water in Trinidad and Tobago not only affects the
production of potable water but also the ability of the rivers to provide productive
habitats for fish. The Caroni River Basin is hugely affected in this way and this is also
applicable to the largest watersheds, which contain the major river systems (and fresh
water ecosystems), such as North Oropouche, Navet, Ortoire, South Oropouche rivers
and their associated wetland/swamp areas. All rivers and streams flowing through
urban areas are heavily polluted and most industries outside sewered areas discharge
untreated waste directly into rivers or the sea. Major systems in Tobago that are
affected include the Richmond, Goldsborough and Hillsborough rivers.

The major threats to the management of watersheds and freshwater

ecosystems in Trinidad and Tobago include the threat from soil erosion, deforestation,
shabitation on steep slopes, annual bush and forest fires, and indiscriminate and

unplanned construction. These can reduce the free flow of fresh water resulting in
changes in composition of fresh water plants, sedges and invertebrate composition
and leads to flooding mainly due to poor drainage and maintenance. Diego Martin,
Maraval, Port of Spain and areas along the east-west corridor are generally affected in
this regard.

Further degradation of the watershed areas can result from pressure on land for
housing and poor land practices, reduced crop and land productivity. A poor system of
logging In Tobago has resulted in similar problems.

Deforestation interferes with the natural harmony of watersheds in the country

as it involves indiscriminate clearing and degradation of forests for housing and urban
development. Additionally, shifting cultivation and squatting, loss of forest and
protective vegetative cover by forest and bush fires, quarrying operations and road
construction and cultivation on steep slopes without the application of appropriate soil
and water conservation measures all contribute to the problem. Many of the rivers that
drain the foothills of the Northern Range are affected by high sediment load as a
result of decreased vegetation in the upper catchment area. During high rainfall, the
Diego Martin, Maraval, Maracas/St. Joseph, Tacarigua and Arima rivers are affected.

The Caroni Basin is already under threat from poor land use practices,
including the deforestation of the Northern Range, which results in consistent
flooding in the lower regions of the Basin. The fresh water system within this region
has been deteriorating rapidly due to pollution from a variety of medium sized
industries, particularly poultry rearing and quarrying. Pesticides and fertilizers from
agricultural use also play a significant role in the dilemma

Salt-water intrusion is also a major cause for concern. A number of aquifers are
opened ended to the sea. The Cocorite well field and Upper El Socorro Gravels in the
North West of the island are examples where salt-water intrusion resulted in the
abandonment of several good producing wells. This has also interfered with the
groundwater systems of the Northwest Peninsula Gravels (Port of Spain/Cocorite), the
Northern Gravels (El Socorro), the Mayaro Sandstone (East Coast of Trinidad) and
the Valsayn Aquifer. Large-scale drawdown on the Northern Gravels due to
population increase along the east-west Corridor has decreased water table levels in
this area. This drawdown has been spurred on by deforestation of the surrounding
watershed forests and widespread change of land-use into housing settlements. The
end product of these activities result in the decrease of percolation (the filtering of
water (and the nutrients it carries) through the soil) and aquifer replenishment is

Sea-level rise along the southwest coast of Trinidad has threatened critical areas
such as the Point Lisas Industrial Estate, a major Gross Domestic Provider (GDP)
provider. Seawater encroachment in the coastal regions of southwest and east
Trinidad continues to be an engineering challenge. Such encroachment has often
resulted in severe erosion of the coastal areas. Limited encroachment and erosion
continues to be experienced in some coastal areas of Tobago.

The beaches of Vessigny, La Brea and Mayaro in the south of Trinidad have been
affected by the oil spills and petroleum hydrocarbon contamination emanating from

the petroleum-based industry. Such spills have had short-term damaging impacts on
the coastlines, particularly in the Gulf of Paria. Contamination is believed to result
from shipping activities, ballast discharge and oil spills from tankers.

The foothills of the Northen Range and the western coast of Trinidad are affected
by effluent outfall resulting from the release of agro-chemicals and the indiscriminate
dumping of agricultural and industrial waste and cleaning agents used in households.
These industries include paint and metal finishing, agro-processing, petrochemicals
and distilleries. No wonder the mangroves in the Beetham area are compromised due
to indiscriminate waste emanating from the nearby Fernandes Distilleries, as well as
leaching from the nearby dump.

Effluents from oil (and sugar cane refining) particularly affect the rivers in south
Trinidad. Petroleum products discharged into the environment stems from the
improper disposal of vehicle oils into open drains. Leaking tanks, washings and
improper disposal of waste oils also affect other areas in the country. All told, these
factors have lead to the widespread contamination of waterways, along with lead
pollutants from vehicles using leaded gasoline. With respect to agricultural pollution
emanating from the sugar industry, the main areas affected were the Caroni, Couva
and Cipero rivers, coastal mangroves and the beachfront.

According to a Water Pollution Management Programme Report sanctioned by

the Environmental Management Authority, stated thus:

Many of the rivers that cross the East/West Corridor and those
that drain the western part of Trinidad are affected by industrial
pollution, these include Cipero (cane sugar production and
refining, service stations), Guaracara (oil refining, service
stations), Couva (petrochemicals, sugar cane production, service
stations, agro-processing), Guayamare (rum distilling, service
station), Caroni (rum distilling, quarrying, service stations, agro-
processing, manufacturing of paints, other chemicals and metal
fabricated products), Santa Cruz/San Juan (quarrying, agro-
processing, service stations), Maracas/St. Joseph (quarrying,
service stations, agro-processing including brewing, chemicals),
Tacarigua (service stations, agro-processing, chemicals and metal
fabricated products) Mausica (service stations, agro-processing),
Arima (service stations, agro-processing, quarrying, chemicals),
Guanapo (quarrying), El Mamo (quarrying), North Oropouche
(quarrying). In Tobago industrial activity is concentrated mainly
in the southwest where there are only a few major rivers; the
Steele River receives agro-processing wastewater.

Compounding the problem is the indiscriminate disposal of domestic refuse and

solid waste in huge quantities in various watercourses in Trinidad and Tobago. This
waste is made up of faeces, animal entrails, chicken feathers, used styrotex and plastic
containers and cumbersome household items. This domestic refuse and solid waste
contribute to clogged waterways, resulting in highly offensive odours that may be
unhygienic. The refuse may also dissolve to produce chemical residues, which lower

water quality. This is the case with respect to Poole, Erin, Arima, and Cunupia Rivers
and Hillsborough River in Tobago.

While the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) operates over twenty (20)
sewage treatment plants in the country, there are approximately over one hundred and
fifty such plants that exist otherwise, which are poorly maintained and pose a serious
health threat. Most of these treatment plants operate inefficiently, producing effluent,
which exceeds the standards for faecal coliform and biological oxygen demand. Non-
functional sewage treatment plants, livestock farms and overflowing septic tanks, and
cesspit latrines also discharge significant quantities of organic waste into the nation's

According to a WASA report, it is estimated that farm waste has been estimated
to produce over fifty-five percent (55 %) of the total waste load. Serious
contamination of over four (4) waterways has been attributed to primarily farm waste.
The total domestic and livestock waste for Trinidad and Tobago was also estimated as
10.4 million kilograms/year with 45 % being contributed from domestic sources and
55 % from livestock. Meanwhile, Tobago accounts for four percent (4 %) of both the
domestic waste and livestock waste (www.wasa.gov.tt/)

Another alarming discovery, according to some sources (anon), was that high
nitrate levels were detected at various times in the Port of Spain and Valsayn Gravels.
These high levels have been linked to leaching from nearby cemeteries.

While we can agree that nature by itself, may interfere, for lack of a better word,
with the equilibrium of its own ecosystems, this report has clearly shown that it is
man who has made the most significant contributions to the deterioration of Trinidad
and Tobago’s (and the planet’s) water quality. The indiscriminate release of high
levels of organic material, toxic waste and pathogens from domestic, industrial and
agricultural sources, as well as indiscriminate and unsanctioned quarrying activities,
deforestation, sewage discharge, domestic solid waste dumping and the excessive use
of agrochemicals and petrochemicals, which has led to high levels of nutrient,
pesticide and heavy metal build-up, has also exacerbated the problem.

It is quite clear that firm and drastic action is needed to manage and control the
escalating problem. Decisive steps need to be taken, coupled with a plan of action and
goals for implementation. These recommendations for control will be addressed in the
following chapter.



Every intelligent people should be wise enough not to pollute water in any way.
This adage rings true and is reflected in the following quote from Rachel Carson’s
‘Silent Spring’, where she postulates:

Man's attitude toward nature is today critically

important simply because we have now acquired a
fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a
part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a
war against himself… [We are] challenged as mankind
has never been challenged before to prove our maturity
and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves (Carson,
R. 1964).

The 1st Law of Thermodynamics states that matter and energy cannot be created or
destroyed, while the 2nd Law states that matter and energy tend to disperse. In this
context, we should never throw anything away and when we do throw something
away, there is no guarantee that it will stay there. In natural processes, matter and
energy tend to flow in cycles and environmental quality is maintained by these cycles
and the interactions between them. Ergo, environmental impacts arise from the
disturbance of these cycles and their relationships beyond their threshold limits
(Andrew Zimmerman Jones, About.com).

Pollution control is a term used in environmental management. It means the

control of emissions and effluents into air, soil or water. Without pollution control, the
waste products from consumption, heating, agriculture, mining, manufacturing,
transportation and other human activities, whether they accumulate or disperse, will
degrade the environment. In the hierarchy of controls, pollution prevention and waste
minimization are more desirable than pollution control.

The objective is to bring the level of pollutants to that which is acceptable. We

cannot eliminate it. What determines acceptable level: Legislation (EMA) or
Scientific Data or Information.

It must be clearly understood that pollution of any kind, far less water pollution,
cannot be completely eradicated, but effective measures can be put in place to control
or manage the problem to an acceptable and less dangerous level. However, this
cannot be achieved without first educating the stakeholders and raising awareness to a
level where attitudes can improve and cultures may become progressive.

Education may include, but not limited to, a schools outreach programme and
graphic public exhibitions on the operations of water and wastewater treatment plants,
and the environmental dangers caused by indiscriminate and unsanctioned
deforestation, slash-and-burn, illegal quarrying and other malpractices that pollute the
water courses.

To augment this, a legislative framework must be developed to address directly

or incidentally the existing problem and give effect to an integrated water resource
management approach so as to guarantee that water quality is provided for people,
food and nature. The current legislative instruments, the Water and Sewerage Act
(1980 revised), the Public Health Act (1950), the Waterworks and Water Conservation
Act (1980 revised), the Environmental Management Act (2000) and the Water
Pollution Rules (2001) are simply not enough and needs to be upgraded in order to
become more effective. Government initiatives should include a national reforestation
and watershed rehabilitation programme to improve the protection of freshwater
sources, as well as a community-based programme for the protection and
enhancement of the environment.

Simple and non-complex methods may be utilised to deal with pollution,

according to the document referred to in the previous chapter (Water Pollution
Management Programme Report), thus:

Domestic Waste:

• Keep litter, pet wastes, leaves, and debris out of street gutters and
storm drains--these outlets drain directly to streams, rivers, and
• Apply lawn and garden chemicals sparingly and according to
• Properly dispose of household hazardous wastes. Many common
household products, (paint thinners, moth balls, drain and oven
cleaners, etc.) contain toxic ingredients. When improperly used or
discarded, these products are a threat to public health and the
environment. Do not pour hazardous products down any drain or
toilet. Do not discard with regular household trash. Learn about
natural and less toxic alternatives and use them whenever possible.
Contact Solid Waste Management Office for information regarding
hazardous waste collection in your area.

• Recycle all used motor oil by taking it to a service station or local

recycling centre. Motor oil contains toxic chemicals that are harmful
to humans and animals. Do not dump used motor oil down storm
drains or on the ground.
• Control soil erosion on your property by planting ground cover and
stabilising erosion-prone areas.
• Limit the amount of impenetrable surfaces in your landscape. Use
permeable paving surfaces such as wood decks, bricks, and concrete
lattice to let water soak into the ground.
• Encourage local government officials to develop construction
erosion/sediment control ordinances in your community.

• Use proper logging and erosion control practices on your forestlands
by ensuring proper construction, maintenance, and closure of logging
roads and skid trails.

• Allow thick vegetation or buffer strips to grow along waterways to

slow runoff and soak up pollutants.
• Plant trees, shrubs, and ground cover. They will absorb up to 14 times
more rainwater than a grass lawn and don't require fertilizer.
• Report questionable logging practices to forestry division and other
water quality agencies.

• Manage animal waste to minimise contamination of surface water
and ground water.
• Protect drinking water by using less pesticides and fertilizers.
• Reduce soil erosion by using conservation practices and other
applicable best management practices.
• Use planned grazing systems on pastureland.
• Dispose of pesticides, containers, and tank rinsate in an approved

Deforestation, as outlined in this report, contributes to several negative

ramifications but in Trinidad and Tobago, there does not seem to exist an
understanding that inappropriate actions, such as this, taken within the upper regions
of our watersheds can negatively impact on downstream areas including our coastal
zones. The resulting sedimentation of our coastal areas at the outfalls of watercourses
requires expensive engineering and maintenance solutions such as dredging.

Salt water intrusion may be controlled by the pumping of aquifers within their
safe yield values, drilling wells further inland from the coast line and the frequent
monitoring of coastal observation wells for water level fluctuations and quality
(chlorides). Technical issues, such as desalination, technology and water recycling,
establishment of a hydro-technical monitoring network and capacity building, are also
critical to successful management of water resources.

Indiscriminate dumping is one of the ways that mankind has imposed a threat
upon his own environment. Awareness and Education, as stated earlier may be useful
in combating the problem, however, treatment of the source by disinfecting before
dumping into the distribution system may help. On a local scale, there are threats by
point source pollution and most aquifers are very vulnerable, in the absence of thick
overlying clay layers, to the infiltration of contaminants. Controlled dumping and the
monitoring of wastewater discharges on a regular and sustained basis are measures
that can be used to avoid such contamination. Remote disposal of waste, in areas that
are not in proximity with aquifers are also applicable and the design should be
modernised and the system treated.

The problem of inefficient sewage waste disposal may be remedied by

choosing septic tanks or WASA sewage mains (Sewerage Treatment Plants) as
opposed to pit latrines. Biodegradable waste can be buried in one’s backyard instead
of ending up in the Port of Spain or Claxton Bay dump, where it goes untreated.


Every individual, in carrying out his / her daily activities, has an impact on the
environment and in nearly all cases, that impact will be negative. Conversely, every
individual has the opportunity to reduce his /her impact and in some cases, even
improve the environment.

Pollution Control Management is the process by which systems are implemented

to reduce that impact and perhaps improve the existing conditions. It may be
considered as making a major contribution to the wider strategy for meeting the
requirements for a sustainable society and focuses very much on the role that
individuals will play in achieving it. As stated earlier, every individual has an impact
on the environment so it is the responsibility of every single person to minimise that
impact and improve it wherever possible.

The growth of industry and technology has increased the impact that mankind will
have on his environment and made it even more severe. As illustrated in this report,
there are still frequent episodes of water pollution arising from accidental or
deliberate disposal of harmful substances on land, dumping of petro-chemicals at sea,
over-use of pesticides and fertilizers and poor sewage systems, all of which results in
contamination of both surface and ground water. The impact of deforestation is
becoming increasingly obvious, for example, there is increasing damage from floods
that are more devastating as a result of the loss of the forests that previously reduced
rainwater run-off to aquifers, rivers and streams.

Deforestation includes the use of slash and burn techniques where valuable
timber is harvested and the remaining trees, shrubs and vegetation are burnt. This
also exists in urbanisation projects, where the land is indiscriminately eroded in the
construction of homes. This has the double impact of increasing carbon dioxide
emissions to the atmosphere thus contributing to global warming and destroying trees
and vegetation that have an important role to play in absorbing carbon dioxide as part
of the photosynthesis process.

Stakeholders can introduce pollution management systems and work towards

sustainability in everything they do. The government and Statutory bodies have an
important role to play in encouraging a more proactive approach to controlling
pollution and the international community can also lead the way, for example, by the
Ramsar Convention.

It must also be known that there is some controversy surrounding certain

information regarding environmental management, but our focus must remain on the
underlying causes and not their signs and symptoms.

One thing is clear, however, failure to address this burning issue of continuing
water pollution and degradation could have a chaotic impact and effect on the future
of the earth and the human race.

The supreme reality of our time is...the vulnerability of our planet

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963)