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Caribbean Environmental Health Institute

Publicado en el 2006 por el Programa Hidrolgico Internacional (PHI) de la Oficina


Regional de Ciencia para Amrica Latina y el Caribe de la Organizacin de las Naciones
Unidas para la Educacin, la Ciencia y la Cultura (UNESCO).
Dr. Luis P. Piera 1992, 2 piso, 11200 Montevideo, Uruguay
Documento Tcnico del PHI-LAC, N 5
ISBN 92-9089-093-2
UNESCO 2006
Las denominaciones que se emplean en esta publicacin y la presentacin de los datos
que en ella figura no suponen por parte de la UNESCO la adopcin de postura alguna en
lo que se refiere al estatuto jurdico de los pases, territorios, ciudades o zonas, o de sus
autoridades, no en cuanto a sus fronteras o lmites. Las ideas y opiniones expresadas en
esta publicacin son las de los autores y no representan, necesariamente, el punto de
vista de la UNESCO.
Se autoriza la reproduccin, a condicin de que la fuente se mencione en forma
apropiada, y se enve copia a la direccin abajo citada. Este documento debe citarse
como:
UNESCO, 2006. The use of desalination plants in the Caribbean.
Caribbean Environmental Health Institute. Documentos Tcnicos del PHILAC, N 5
Dentro del lmite de la disponibilidad, copias gratuitas de esta publicacin pueden ser
solicitadas a:
PHI-LAC
Oficina Regional de Ciencias para Amrica
Latina y el Caribe
Unesco Montevideo Dr. Luis P. Piera 1992, 2 piso
11200 Montevideo, Uruguay
Tel.: + 598 2 413 20 75
Fax: + 598 2 413 20 94
E-mail: phi@unesco.org.uy
http://www.unesco.org.uy/phi

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Table of Contents
Foreword ..........................................................................................................
Acknowledgments ............................................................................................
Executive Summary..........................................................................................
Introduction.......................................................................................................
Background on CEHI........................................................................................
Methodology .....................................................................................................
Preamble ..........................................................................................................
Country Situation ..............................................................................................
Antigua and Barbuda ............................................................................
Bahamas...............................................................................................
Barbados ..............................................................................................
British Virgin Islands .............................................................................
Trinidad and Tobago.............................................................................
St. Lucia................................................................................................
Grenada................................................................................................
Mexico ..................................................................................................
Conclusions ......................................................................................................
Why Desalination..................................................................................
Types ....................................................................................................
Challenges............................................................................................
Opportunities ........................................................................................
Legal and Regulatory Overlay ..............................................................
Socio-Economic and Environmental Setting.........................................
Future Potential ....................................................................................
Recommendations............................................................................................
Sources of Information .....................................................................................
References .......................................................................................................
Acronyms & Technical Abbreviations ...............................................................
Appendices.......................................................................................................
Appendix 1
Desalination by Reverse Osmosis System
Appendix 2
Desalination by Multi-Stage Flash Distillation
Appendix 3
Multi Effect Distillation (MED)
Appendix 4
Vapor Compression Distillation (VCD)

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

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Foreword
The increase in the demand of water resources in small island states, mostly due to
tourism, has forced both the government and the private sector of small island states to
search for new ways of augmenting the volume of fresh water available. Among the
different technologies used to obtain fresh water, desalination is rapidly gaining popularity.
Consequently, there is a need to improve the existing knowledge in the region in relation
to the design, installation and operation of desalination plants.
At the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme for Latin America and the
Caribbean (IHP-LAC) V Meeting (Kingston, Jamaica, 17-19 March 2004), the IHP National
Committee Presidents and Focal Points stated their interest for the Programme to address
the thematic of desalination in the near future. Subsequently, at the IHP-LAC V meeting
held in Montego Bay, Jamaica, October 9-14, 2005, the participants approved resolution
IHP-LAC VI-8 in relation to the establishment of a Working Group on Desalination.
Following up on this resolution, the Greater Caribbean Member States and Chile were
asked to nominate an expert from their country to the Working Group on Desalination. Six
countries nominated a group member, namely: Bahamas, Grenada, Saint Lucia, Mexico,
United States of America, Jamaica. UNESCO IHP-LAC contracted CEHI (Caribbean
Environmental Health Institute) to carry out a study on the state of desalination in the
Caribbean.
The Working Group on Desalination met for the first time in Castries, Saint Lucia, April 1011, 2006. The event was orgnized by the UNESCO IHP-LAC in collaboration with CEHI
and the UNESCO Office in Jamaica. The meeting was attended by representatives of 5
Greater Caribbean Member States and two organizations, namely CEHI and CWWA
(Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association). The participants reviewed the state of
desalination technological advances and trends in the Greater Caribbean. Following up
the exchange of information and discussion on potential future activities, the participants
agreed to reafirm the conformation of the Working Group on Desalination as part of
UNESCO-IHP LAC groups of experts, and to develop a document on guidelines on
desalination for Member States. In addition, it was agreed to carry out an inventory on
existing desalination plants in the Caribbean and to further exchange knowledge and
expertise on desalination techniques and derived social and economic issues.
The members of the group provided additional information that was added to the
document prepared by CEHI. The present document is the result of this exercise

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Acknowledgements
The Caribbean Environmental Health Institute would like to acknowledge the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for their vision in
recognizing the need to address desalination as it contributions to and impacts on the
countries of the region, and its scope for further development in the area of desalination.
CEHI also wishes to thank the individuals and Water Utility companies, desalination
companies and private operators of desalination plants, which contributed to this study
including:
Antigua and Barbuda - John Bradshaw, Water Manager, Antigua Public Utilities Authority;
Daniel Aburime, Production Engineer, Crabbs Power and Desalination Plant, APUA;
Rodney Dickenson, Plant Manager, Enerserve/Veolia Water, Crabbs; Thierry Le Cras,
Enerserve/Veolia Water, Crabbs
Bahamas - Dr. Richard Cant, Assistant General Manager, Water and Sewerage
Corporation
Barbados - Dr. John Bwalya Mwansa, Project Manager, Barbados Water Resources
Management and Water Loss Studies, Barbados Water Authority; O. Carlyle Bourne,
International Hydrological Programme Focal Point, Ministry of Agriculture; Harriet
Waldron, Ionics/GE
British Virgin Islands Julian Willock, Ag. Director, Water and Sewerage Department,
Ministry of Communications and Works, Government of the British Virgin Islands
Trinidad and Tobago - John Thompson, The Desalination Company of Trinidad and
Tobago (Desalcott), Point Lisas; Claire McEwan, Desalcott, Point Lisas; Sharon Taylor,
Deputy General Manager, Water, Water and Sewerage Authority
St. Lucia - Shanta King, Operations Manager, Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO)
Grenada- Lester Arnold, Operations Manager, NAWASA; Alphonsus Daniel, Consultant,
Daniel and Daniel Consulting, Grenada

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Executive Summary
Prior to the use of desalination technologies in the Caribbean, water sources were limited
largely to treatment and distribution of surface water, spring water, and ground water from
aquifers, boreholes and wells. Rainwater harvesting was also practiced where rainfall
availability allowed for its exploitation and where none of these were possible, water had
to be barged in by boat.
The technologies observed for desalination were that of Reverse Osmosis (RO) and MultiStage Flash Distillation (MSFD). The RO plants were overwhelmingly more popular. The
few MSFD plants appeared to have been older so that the assumption is that RO plants
are replacing them, although in Antigua, one of the MSFD plants is also used in electricity
generation, and there appears to be opportunities for energy recovery. It is uncertain
whether that and there were only a few MSFD plants, which appeared to be older. Some
of the advantages to the RO plants was the fact that they occupied less space and
represented simpler technology so they easier to operate.
In conducting the research for this study, it was found that countries can roughly be
categorized as those that are naturally water scarce as a result of geography and those
that face an emergent problem of increased water demand or reduced water supply or
quality. The water scarce countries have better established national policies, whether
written or not as regards water augmentation and desalination in particular.
There appears to be no pattern regarding the pricing of water. Whereas in the Bahamas
and Barbados, water is reflective of the cost of production, in counties such as the British
Virgin Islands (BVI) and Grenada it is heavily subsidized. The standard of living in the BVI
is such that this has less of an impact than in Grenada, where the cost is a serious burden
to the National Water and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA). Traditionally, Grenada, like St.
Lucia and other volcanic islands with significant enough forest cover and water catchment
areas for surface and spring water, the cost of water has been relatively low because they
have been subsidized by their governments. In the case of St. Lucia however,
desalination is largely limited to private resorts and as such there is no direct impact to the
national budget or the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WASCO). In Grenada, the
reverse osmosis plants were purchased by the government and handed over to
NAWASA. Two of the three plants thus acquired have been commissioned and have both
been fraught with operational difficulties. The fact that they have been left inactive for up
to several months at a time serves to indicate that they are not viewed critical to
addressing the water demand issues. The more water scarce countries of the Bahamas
and the BVI see desalination as their only viable source of water and as such their policies
and supporting actions embrace desalination efforts more firmly. Desalination in Trinidad
and Tobago is a response to the growing need for water, particularly the industrial users
at the Point Lisas Industrial Estate. What is not used by the industries at Point Lisas is
distributed in the mains to feed the domestic supply. This is charged according to the tariff
structure for those users, which is much lower than what is charged to industrial users.
The public is generally accepting of desalinated water. In the Bahamas, it is actually
preferable, with a recorded increase in usage where desalinated water is substituted for
groundwater. In Barbados, the desalinated water is mixed in storage with treated
groundwater and there was initially a negative public reaction to the taste, but complaints
decreased with public education. In Grenada, however, there was and still is a negative
reaction to desalinated water with persons preferring to harvest rainwater for
consumption, and to use desalinated water for other activities in times of water stress. It
was found that there was generally little public education and awareness in the islands or
Petit Martinique and Carriacou where the desalinated plants have been operational. There
THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

are also other complications related to the general absence of a distribution network on
those islands and the fact that on these two water scarce islands, rainwater harvesting is
extensively practiced for which there is no monthly cost. It is extremely difficult for the
National Water and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA) to get a market for desalinated water
that is generally not trusted and which would require not just purchase but also
transportation by the purchaser. In the case of Grenada, it is evident that the
governments policy was not well communicated to all stakeholders, including NAWASA.
Even in countries where desalination had a longer history, there was little by way of
legislation that addresses desalination specifically. Legislation generally recognized the
authority of the water utility to proenduce potable water to satisfy current demand and to
explore and pursue viable water augmentation options for future conditions and needs.
Where desalination is concerned, because of the cost, several factors have to be
addressed. In Trinidad, because of the size of the plant proposed at Point Lisas, the Town
and Country Planning Division required a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Recently in St. Lucia, such proposals from private entities have been referred to the
Development Control Authority (DCA) in the Ministry of Physical Planning, Housing and
the Environment, who would then seek expert review from CEHI, WASCO and possibly
the Fisheries Division.
The environmental impacts have so far been determined by all countries studied to be
negligible. In Trinidad, because of the size of the plant, there were concerns over the
impact of silt on the receiving body as a result of the volume of brine discharged. This was
addressed however, with the removal of this silt from the filtrate to a local sanitary landfill.
The treated brine is not hazardous and can be safely disposed of in the sea where there is
sufficient currents to facilitate rapid dispersion over a short distance. Thus there should be
little impact to marine, coastal and benthic ecosystems.
Countries utilizing desalination as a water augmentation option do so because it has been
judged to offer the quality, quantity or reliability that other sources cannot offer as
efficiently. Because of the reliance on energy, desalination may not be as cost effective as
other alternatives, but the perceived advantages for each local situation where it has been
implemented, has been determined to outweigh the cost. In various countries, the
advantages range from the reliability of this option, the characteristic design-own-operate
contractual approach that reduces the hassle of managing some of the other more
traditional options. The relatively short timeframe in which a reverse osmosis plant can be
erected and operationalized can also be a factor. A properly functioning desalination plant
produces high quality water that is suitable for a wide range of functions including many
industrial applications that require water that exceeds the widely used WHO drinking
water guidelines.
Going forward, it is strongly recommended that governments adopt a structured approach
to the implementation of desalination. This should also be considered for countries that
have not implemented desalination plants, as trends throughout the islands suggest that
such a move is imminent. The governments should develop a policy and then take the
steps to support this with clearly defined steps and procedures. In some of the countries, it
is clear that desalination is being implemented in an ad hoc manner and although it is not
likely that this will have adverse impacts on human health and safety, (provided the plants
are operating optimally), there can be negative environmental impacts if adequate
measures are not put in place to safeguard ecological resources. All stakeholders,
particularly the regulatory agencies should be consulted in the development of national
policies. Additionally, these policies should be developed within the national framework for
the management of water, so that it complements other programmes addressing this
issue.
8

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Introduction
The Caribbean Environmental Health Institute (CEHI) was contracted by the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), through the office of
the Regional Hydrologist for Latin America and the Caribbean, to develop a study to
evaluate the use of desalination plants in the Caribbean, within the context of the water
scenario in the region. The study is to identify trends and propose potential developments
that include:

Definition of the potential for desalination in the Caribbean


Identification of the challenges and opportunities of this water supply system
Analysis of the legal and regulatory overlay in the region in relation to desalination
Analysis of the economic and environmental settings and requirements as well as
the societal implications of present and future desalination endeavours
Identification of present trends
Proposal of potential desalination systems development in the region

This report constitutes a summary of work undertaken as of November 14, 2005 on the
Study to Evaluate the Use of Desalination Plants in the Caribbean to augment the potable
water supply. The scope of the study is intended to cover Caribbean island states that
employ desalination as a water augmentation or primary source of potable water, and will
also indicate work planned and outputs to be delivered.
Further the discussion carried out within the context of the UNESCO /IHP Working Group
on Desalination provided additional information which was added to the original base
document.

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Background on CEHI
CEHI has worked in the water sector since its inception and has, as such, developed a
wealth of knowledge and expertise on many water management issues and water-related
areas in the Caribbean. Current staff has close to 80 years of collective experience in the
sector which is one of the core areas of focus as mandated by the Member States through
the Board of Directors, which comprises the Ministers of Health of 16 regional countries.
In addition, CEHIs professionals are supported by post-graduate engineering interns, who
have contributed their theoretical knowledge and practical training towards this and other
projects that address water and water related issues.
CEHI has been involved in the past in water supply augmentation initiatives, including
desalination and most recently rain water harvesting. Through participation in the
Rainwater Partnership, for example, CEHI has led the region in looking at alternative
approaches to the traditional surface and groundwater abstraction approaches to water
supply.

10

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Methodology
The approach used was that of conducting a literature review, telephone surveys, inperson interviews (where possible) and site visits. Data was obtained from Water Utility
Companies in the form of reports, through interviews with technical and administrative
personnel, and from private desalination companies operating within the countries of:
Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, St. Lucia and
Trinidad & Tobago.
Information was also sourced from other regional organisations, presentations made by
resource persons in the area of water resources management; and from the internet. The
information presented reflects a combination of recorded information and anecdotal data.
Further details were also sourced through the Caribbean Water & Wastewater Association
and the International Desalination Association, among others.
Much of the information was obtained electronically, but most was obtained from a
combination of hard copy sources, telephone interviews and site visits. Several officers
were active in the data gathering and site visits as determined by the available budget and
utilizing their presence in the countries targeted.
Site visits are conducted in Antigua, Trinidad, Grenada, St. Lucia and Barbados.
Review, discussion, and extension of the base document at the St. Lucia Working Group
on Desalination meeting (Castries, April 10-11, 2006).

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11

Preamble
Desalination is utilized in many islands of the Caribbean. Some of those most noteworthy
because of their history with desalination, or because of the significance of their operation,
include: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands and
Trinidad and Tobago. Interestingly, some of the volcanic islands with surface water
sources have recently adopted desalination to meet increased potable water demand
created by development objectives and reduced supply due to poor storage, or land use
conflicts in watershed areas. In St. Lucia for instance, desalination is utilized by and being
planned for some of the larger resorts either in areas where the distribution system does
not extend, or in order to satisfy upward fluctuations in demand. There is also the
popularly held suspicion that in some countries, desalination is sometimes employed in an
attempt to compensate for the losses perpetuated by poor maintenance of the distribution
system as it relates to leak detection.
The preferred desalination technology option employed in the Caribbean appears to be
overwhelmingly that of Reverse Osmosis (RO) (see Appendix 1), although some MultiStage Flash Distillation (MSFD) (see Appendix 2) systems are in use in Antigua, the
Bahamas and the BVI. Initial concerns with the specificity and technical expertise
required to operate and manage this technology has been overcome with the tendency of
plants to be operated by private entities, with exclusive long term contracts to sell water to
the government or contracting industry. More recently, the RO technology has become
less complicated and therefore easier to operate, according to some operators. Some of
the advantages of RO include the fact that the plant can be erected and operationalized
within a year, and takes up relatively less physical space as compared to distillation
plants; and it uses comparatively less energy than other traditional thermal desalination
technologies such as MSFD, Multiple Effect Distillation (MED) (see Appendix 3)and Vapor
Compression Distillation (VCD) (see Appendix 4). The disadvantage includes the fact that
this process, like distillation, is energy dependent and relatively expensive compared to
conventional water production from ground and surface water sources.
Some countries have utilized dual purpose desalination systems that derive energy from
another process, normally power generation. This is particularly true of the larger systems,
utilizing thermal technology. Notably in Antigua, the Bahamas, and the BVI, dual systems
exist. The thermal energy recovered from power generation is used usually for the MSFD
process; or a combination of MSFD and VCD.
Reverse Osmosis plants can be designed to use brackish water or seawater. As it
requires less energy to produce potable water from brackish water, given the lower levels
of salinity, there would be an advantage to using this source. However, the sustainability
of brackish water sources can be uncertain whereas seawater is inexhaustible by
comparison. Conversion from the use of brackish water to seawater would mean an
increase in the cost of production, and would necessitate replacement of the membranes
and pumps used, which in itself could amount to the cost of building a new plant
(according to Dr. John Bwalya Mwansa, Project Manager, Barbados Water Resources
Management and Water Loss Studies, Barbados Water Authority).
The technology is improving and it is expected that the efficiency and cost of desalination
by RO and probably other desalination technologies will support its continued application
in the Caribbean.

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THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Country Situation
The following information has been obtained for the countries indicated, using the
methodology described above.
Antigua and Barbuda:
Antigua and Barbuda is geographically located at 17 03 North, 61 48 West and forms
part of the Leeward Island group in the Northern Caribbean Sea. The total land area of
Antigua and Barbuda approximates 442 km2 with a population of about 78,580 (2003).
The country enjoys a relatively consistent tropical maritime climate. While geologically,
Barbuda is of limestone origin, Antigua manifests the characteristically mountainous
volcanic topography in the south of the island, but a flatter limestone topography in the
north. The central plain is a combination of the two geographic formations.
Antigua and Barbuda have no significant surface water and they are prone to periodic
droughts. Rainfall appears to fluctuate within a seven-year cycle. According 2001 statistics
the average annual rainfall for Antigua is 1041 mm (40.98 inches). The municipal water
reservoirs have a total storage capacity of about 4,976,480 m3, according to the Ministry
of Trade and Planning. The average annual rainfall for Barbuda was given as 882 mm
(34.74 inches).
Currently, to cope with this, the Development Control Authority stipulates that buildings
must be constructed with rooftop rainwater catchments and storage. The use of
groundwater has been explored, but it has been determined that it is not available in
sufficient quantities for potable water usage.
Given the limited land space available for surface catchments, desalination was selected
by the Government as a viable method for producing potable water, because of easy
access to the beach for feed water, and also because of the relatively cheap electricity
rates which existed at the time (i.e. in the late 1980s). The electricity cost for desalination
is subsidized by the Government, while the administrative costs are subsidized by the
telephone utility. This arrangement is possible because the water, telephone and electric
utilities are housed in one umbrella organization, the Antigua Public Utilities Authority
(APUA). According to the APUA, whereas EC$23 (US$8.50) per 1000 gallons is paid for
water, the actual production cost in Antigua, for APUA, is EC $30 (US$11) per 1000
gallons, without the subsidies. Figures quoted from the Ministry of Planning, appearing in
an OAS report on Drought Hazard Assessment and Mapping for Antigua and Barbuda,
Post-Georges Disaster Mitigation Project in Antigua & Barbuda and St. Kitts & Nevis 2001
suggested the following comparison of costs for the production of water from different
sources:
Comparative Costs of Water Production from Various Sources
Water Source
Ground water
Surface water
Desalinated water

Production Cost per m3


US$2.50
US$3.00
US$4.70

It is the policy of the government to keep the cost of water low and therefore the cost of
production, particularly for desalinated water, is not reflected in the rates charged to the
consumer. It was not indicated whether the cost varied among consumers so that
commercial users paid a different rate compared to domestic users. Agriculture is not
significant in Antigua, but water for agricultural purposes wherever possible came from
THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

13

groundwater and rainwater cisterns. The Ministry of Planning estimates the difference
between production and revenue costs to be US $8 million between 1997 and 2020. In
light of this, the Antigua and Barbuda Government had considered investing in the
exploration of increasing availability of surface and groundwater. Given the ever
increasing demand, and the uncertainty of climate change and climate variability, however
it is more likely that reliance on desalination will become even more significant.
The APUA is the government statutory agency responsible for the administration and
operations of the utilities in Antigua and Barbuda. It was established under the Public
Utilities Act No. 10 of 1973. All policy and legislative developments is channeled through
and falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister responsible for Public Utilities. The unique
institutional arrangement of the APUA covers telecommunications, electricity and water.
The role of the Water Division is to provide, protect and preserve Antiguas water supplies.
In an effort to fulfill its mandate the APUA invested in a desalination plant at Crabbs,
which was commissioned in 1987 and at one time supplied over 70% of the water to the
country
(according
to
information
posted
on
APUAs
website
http://www.apua.ag/Apua/about_us.htm). In 1993, the APUA entered into an agreement
with a private agency, Enerserve, operating a reverse osmosis desalination plant at
Crabbs, to purchase from them approximately 0.5 mgd. In 2004, figures quoted by the
APUA on their website suggested that the Antigua and Barbudas municipal water supply
comprised by source:
Volumes of Water Produced Daily from Various Sources
Source
Surface water (during non-drought conditions)
Reverse Osmosis Plant
Multi-Stage Flash Distillation
Groundwater (during non-drought conditions)

Volume (gallons/day)
700,000
2,000,000
2,000,000
450,000

The types of plants utilized in Antigua and Barbuda include a Multi-Stage Flash Distillation
(MSFD) plant, now owned by Veolia Water, of France, as part of a dual, 18.2 MW
electricity generation facility of APUA (which produces 2 mgd of water); and a number of
reverse osmosis (RO) plants. The largest RO plant, located at the APUA facility at
Crabbs, was designed, built, owned and operated by Enerserve, to be eventually sold
over to the APUA.
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda
is currently supplied by Enerserve
through five reverse osmosis units, which
provide water to the Water Division of
APUA. Each RO unit has a capacity of
approximately 200,000 imgd (750 000 l/d)
each. These plants use seawater, which
is returned to the sea after use. The
possibility exists to utilize the discharge
from the Enerserve plant as feed water
for the MSFD plant of APUA, but this has
not been pursued as yet. A feature of
these units is that energy recovery has
been incorporated into the design,
thereby reducing operating costs.

14

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Water produced by Enerserve is pumped directly to storage on-site at Crabbs. This


storage is provided by APUA but is currently insufficient for the production capacity at
Crabbs. Additionally, leaks within the transmission and distribution network result in the
loss of treated, desalinated water.
The two MSFD units at Crabbs are part
of a facility which generates electricity.
The process is quite complex and
utilizes low pressure and temperature
steam from the exhaust of the steam
turbine. This exhaust steam provides
the thermal energy for evaporation of
seawater. Seawater is the feed water
utilized and is essentially distilled, with
38% of the feed water distilled (or
desalinated). The brine (or reject water)
from this process is returned to the sea.
The desalinated water is treated further
to increase calcium hardness, using
limestone beds, and alkalinity, to reduce
corrosion in the distribution system.

Enerserve Reverse Osmosis Plant, Crabs


Antigua

The APUA has also installed a RO plant in the sister island of Barbuda. This plant was
commissioned in March 2005 and has a capacity of 120 m3/day (27,000 igpd). Since its
commissioning, the plant has had to be taken out of service for operational reasons
related to voltage fluctuations, which resulted in the units starting and stopping frequently.
It has been suggested that the complex computer controls used at this facility are difficult
to repair and that no local capacity exists to maintain this system. Capacity building
therefore remains a concern in both Antigua and Barbuda in relation to operating RO
plants.
As with several other utility companies, APUA prefers to engage in design-build-ownoperate contracts with private companies, which involves a handing over of the facilities
after a 15 to 20 year period.
The cost of utilizing desalination for APUA is high owing to the costs of pipe and pump
replacement, energy and chemicals (which averages to about US$400,000 annually). The
cost of desalinated water alone (from the RO plants at Crabbs) is US$5.8/1000 gal. The
cost of desalinated water from the MSFD Plant at Crabbs is US$7.36/1000 gal. These
figures account for the cost at the source and do not include the costs associated with
chemical, operations and maintenance, etc. High costs are also attributable to the cost of
chemicals used to reduce corrosion, and also to the replacement costs for the corroded
pipes and pumps.
A number of privately operated RO plants exist in Antigua as well, including at St. James
Club, Carlisle Bay Hotel, Rex Halcyon Resort and Jumby Bay resort.
Bahamas:
The islands making up the Bahamas stretch from 24 15 N and 76 W. The total land area
approximates 13,864 km2 with a population of about 324,800 (2005 est.). The Bahamas
comprises 700 islands and cays, of which only 3 islands have significant water sources
while some have no freshwater at all. Where groundwater is found in natural aquifers,
there is concern that the threat of sea level rise can affect the water quality.
THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

15

The options for water production therefore include high cost desalination options such as
MultiStage Flash Vapor Compression Distillation and Reverse Osmosis; barging water to
the islands in water tankers; distribution through underwater pipelines and reuse of treated
wastewater (for small scale irrigation). Other alternatives include groundwater abstraction,
(which is limited), and rainwater harvesting.
The following diagram illustrates the typical profile of fresh, brackish, saline and
hypersaline waters of the near and deep subsurface and in lakes and ponds that intercept
the surface, in the Bahamas. It also indicates the vulnerability of the system, and the
reason for concern over the impact of sea level rise on groundwater.

Diagram of a Freshwater Lens in an Oceanic Island


(Like The Bahamas)

The options that have been employed in the past, and which continue to some extent in
some islands, include barging of water by tankers and some groundwater abstraction.
However, economic development, particularly for tourism is dependent upon availability of
potable water. Therefore, desalination, specifically RO utilizing seawater, is being
embraced as the most viable option for the water demand of the Bahamas into the future,
particularly given the scale of water production required. Other desalination feed water
sources include brackish water from wells and a lake.
Alternatives such as rainwater harvesting are not popular as an augmentation option
because it is subject to seasonal variability, making supplies unreliable. Those options
that are vulnerable to damage during extreme weather events are also generally
unfavourable. Groundwater abstraction can be costly because of the required
pretreatment, and also because it requires heavy capital outlay for land acquisition and
maintenance. Land for this purpose also often has to compete with other economic
development activities. The cost of desalinated water in the capital, New Providence is
comparable with the cost of barging water in from a neighbouring island, and has the
advantage of superior quality, reliability and sustainability. Thus, although it is recognized
that water produced by RO is not cheap, owing to the pre-treatment and energy
requirements of the process, and the fact that returns are poor with respect to serving
small, scattered islands, RO continues to replace groundwater sources. Plans are
underway to increase the number of RO plants across the Bahamas.

16

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Although older forms of desalination technology exist, RO appears to be preferentially


endorsed, and in the Bahamas, RO plants have been customized to use diesel fuel.
The Bahamas is one of the countries in the region with the longest history of desalination.
Distillation technologies for desalination have been employed as far back as 1958. After
two plants were commissioned and subsequently failed, the following were established
with greater success from 1961.
Historical Experiences with Various Desalination Technologies
for the Municipal Potable Water Supply
Place

Period

Technology

Feed water

Output

Clifton Pier,
New
Providence

1961 - 1971

MSFD

seawater,
then
borehole
water

672,000 gpd
(60%
capacity;
designed for
1.2 mgd)

Bimini

1969 - 1974

VCD

seawater

Blue Hills,
New
Providence

1972 - 1977

MSFD

Borehole
water

New
Providence

1977 - 1980

RO
(Pilot
project)

Lake
Killarnery
(6,000
13,000 ppm
cl)

Very
variable:
max 19,000
gpd but
average
12,000 gpd
1.2 mgd
(60%
capacity;
designed for
2 mgd)
447,000 gpd
(89%
capacity;
designed for
0.5 mgd)

Cost (local
currency)
$2.70/1,000
gals
(excludes
electricity
and
manpower
costs)
$14.50/1,00
0 gals

Problems
Corrosion; cost

$7-8/1,000
gals

Sand
blockages,
scale,
corrosion,
mechanical
failure
Corrosion,
scale, cost

$7.65/1,000
gals

Fed water
quality; cost

The table above represents water provision by the national water utility, but several
private entities have utilized desalination for their activities including private
developments, hotels, marinas and at least one rum distillery, from the early 1970s.
There is no specific legislation or regulation governing water production by desalination.
The operations of the Water and Sewerage Corporation are regulated by the Water and
Sewerage Act, while privately owned plants operate under franchise agreements (the Out
Islands Act) in the Family Islands where water is re-sold. In the Family Islands, there is no
other viable option for water production, so desalination is employed. There are no
regulations governing groundwater and individuals may install facilities for their individual
use. In other areas where ground water is available, it is utilized. Although there is no
national policy regarding desalination, the Water and Sewerage Corporation intends to
maximize the use of desalinated water. according to Acting Deputy General Manager,
Mr. Glen F. Laville.
The Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) has demonstrated a preference for private
companies to build, own and operate RO plants because of the technical expertise and
maintenance required for running these plants. This arrangement reduces the need for
technical expertise, minimizing the cost and impact on the human resource capacity of the
WSC. It is estimated that there are over 200 RO plants currently operational in the

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

17

Bahamas. The following represents the output of water in some the islands from these
plants and the year in which each plant was commisioned:
Output of Some RO Desalination Plants within the Bahamas
Location

Start of Operations

Moores Island, Abaco

1996

Grand Cay, Abaco


Waterfields, New Providence
Black Point, Exuma
Farmer cay, Exuma
Bimini
Inagua
Exuma Emerald Bay Plant
South Eleuthera
Exuma george Town Plant
Long Island
Ragged Island
San Salvador

1996
1998
1998
1999
2002
2003
2003
2004
2004
2004
2005
2005

Volume output in
Gallons per Day
20,000 (recently up to
30,000)
20,000 (max.)
2,000,000
15,000
3,000
80,000
50,000
50,000
75,000
180,000
60,000
2,000
80,000

To date, there has been no negative public reaction to the quality of desalinated water. In
fact, the Corporation has recorded an increase in consumption where desalinated water
has replaced groundwater. The Water and Sewerage Corporation actively promotes
desalinated water as high quality and better tasting than the water from the traditional
sources. Given the long history of the country with desalination, and the plans to increase
the use of RO for water production, there appears to be a comfortable level of social
acceptance of this technology.
Some of the challenges associated with the use of desalination are the vulnerability of the
systems to natural disasters, disruptions to electricity, and the quality of feed water.
Problems are also associated with corrosion and the high cost of replacement parts and
laying pipes. Currently, there are 200 plants producing more than 1000 gal/day each; Club
Med alone demands 70,000 gal/day while the local population requires 10,000 gal/day on
the island of San Salvador. In some areas, the problem extends beyond the technology
and is one of maintenance of the distribution network. In New Providence, for instance,
unaccounted-for water is estimated to be as high as 50 percent.
Projected expansion of desalination includes:

18

A new RO plant in Blue Hills, New Providence with a capacity of 5mgd and
increased capacity of the Waterfields Plant to 3 mgd signed contract
Installation and operation of a 3 mgd plant at Arawack Cay, New Providence and
400,000 = gpd plant in Central Eleuthera negotiation in progress
Proposed desalination plants for: south Eleuthera, Acklins, North and Central Long
Island, Green turtle Cay, Great Harbour Cay, areas in Cat Island, Crooked Island
and Long Cay identified need
Establishment of desalination plants for large, private developments for residents
in Managua, Rum Cay and in other islands, pending approval of these
developments negotiation in progress

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

The way forward is seen as the termination of the system of barging water and the
commissioning of new plants and total dependence on desalination. The following excerpt
from the Nassau Guardian recently noted that ..According to Deputy General Manager
of the Water & Sewerage Corporation, Godfrey Sherman, the Corporation has plans to
construct a new reverse osmosis plant, which is expected to take some six months to be
completed. The new plant which will be able to convert five million gallons of salt water to
fresh water daily, will not come on stream until 2006.
"Salt water would be removed from the ground in Nassau and converted into fresh water.
A similar plant is located at Windsor Field and converts some two million gallons a day
into fresh water. Right now, the Corporation is looking for a suitable location to build
another plant, possibly at Blue Hills," Mr. Sherman announced on Monday.
Barbados:
Located 13 2 N and 58 5 W, Barbados, lies outside the archipelago making up the
Lesser Antilles. Barbados occupies approximately 431 km2 and has a resident population
of about 272,700 (2004), making it one of the most densely populated countries in the
world.
The geology of the island which is dominated by a 300-foot limestone cap below the
surface catchment areas allows for the percolation of rainwater into a natural aquifer
according to the Government of Barbados State of the Environment (GODSE) Report
2000. Raw water is abstracted from this natural underground freshwater reservoir or from
underground springs that drain into it. According to the GOBSE Report (2000)
groundwater accounted for 79% of the total fresh water resources of Barbados and about
98% of water in the distribution system, prior to augmentation with desalinated water.
Factors sparking concern over groundwater quality include:

Salinity resulting from heavy abstraction to meet demand;


Leaching of agricultural chemicals such as nitrates, phosphates and pesticides;
Contamination by industrial liquid waste;
Contamination from domestic liquid waste due to the presence of fissures;
Indiscriminate disposal of soild waste in the Gully System which acts as
catchments for the recharge of the aquifers;
Landfill leachate reaching the water table.

In Barbados, of concern is the preferred method of solid waste disposal, which is sanitary
landfilling. This significant source of potential contamination of groundwater can have
implications for water quality, safety and public health. The solid waste disposal problems
experienced are precipitated by demand, population pressures and space issues, which
are typical of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) (GOBSE, 2000).
Barbados has been ranked the fifteenth most water scarce country in the world. The
decision to pursue water augmentation was made after an assessment of the water
situation in Barbados during the period 1993-1994. It was found that an average of
160,000 m3/day of water went into the distribution system and that this was the minimum
volume required to meet demand. Reduction in annual rainfall and downward fluctuations
in rainfall over shorter periods resulted in the inability of the BWA to meet demand. A
1994/5 drought highlighted water supply shortfalls, supporting the exploration of water
augmentation alternatives.

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

19

December to May is normally recognized as the dry months, compared with the rainy
period from June to November. Comparison of rainfall data shows that from 1978 to 1998,
the average rainfall has decreased from 1524mm (60 inches) to 1422 mm (56 inches),
however, the population, their level of affluence and their water demand have increased.
The demand for water covers not just the domestic requirements of this population, but
also for the tourist industry, which accounts for a significant proportion of economic activity
on the island. Agriculture, agro-processing and light manufacturing are also sectors with
significant demand on the public water supply. The per capita demand for water has been
approximated at 0.62m3/day.
According to a 1978 Barbados Water Resources Study by Stanley and Associates
Engineering Ltd. and Consulting Engineering Partnership Ltd., the average total rainfall
available from groundwater, surface water, springs and run-off would be about 246, 000
m3/day (54.79 US mgd) and during a 1 in 15 year drought period about 155,000 m3/day
(34.37 US mgd). By 1996, the average total demand for water was about 158,400 m3/day.
The projected growth rate for the increase in demand was determined to be about 3%
annually, which would mean an increasing deficit from 1997, leading to a deficit of 47,900
m3/day by 2005. There was concern that the water demand for purposes other than
domestic usage, particularly for irrigation of golf courses, would exceed the projected
allocation of 90,000 m3/day. The average rainfall estimated in the state of the Environment
Study Report 2000 was estimated at 1,422.4 mm for that time period.
Attempts to address the water problems in Barbados included protection of water
catchment areas and zoning to control activities in sensitive areas. Other measures
employed in the 1980s included reducing water pressure, temporary shut-off of water in
various areas at various times, and a temporary increase in the tariff block. Between 1996
and 1998, the Water Resources Management and Water Loss Studies (WRMWLS) were
commissioned to address the factors of: increased demand, increase in the use of
potentially harmful agro-chemicals, and reducing rates of aquifer recharge rainwater due
to run-off resulting from urban development. The major recommendations from this study
focused on reducing consumer use of the resource and reducing water loss within the
distribution system.
In 1997, the Policy Framework for Water Resources Development and Management
informed by the recommendations of the WRMWLS developed a comprehensive Water
Resources Development and Management Plan with projections up to the year 2016 and
beyond. This plan included strategies focused on demand and supply management,
augmentation, institution capacity building, policy and legislation. Included in this plan was
endorsement of desalination as a water augmentation option.
In 1996 a feasibility study was commissioned prior to the establishment of the desalination
plant in Spring Garden, by the Government of Barbados to address .all aspects of
water supply in Barbados, quantifying the need for additional water, considering
alternatives for supplementing the natural groundwater.. The study indicated that source
augmentation by the use of desalinated brackish water by reverse osmosis would be an
appropriate alternative for Barbados.
Some of the factors supporting that decision included:
Supply and demand;
Hydrogeology;
Technology;
Financial and economic considerations;
Location and site selection;

20

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Environmental impact considerations;


Management;
Operation and ownership;
Implementation.

Other water related issues factored into the implementation of the proposed system
included the metering and unaccounted for water reduction programmes.
Ionics Freshwater Ltd. (recently acquired by General Electric) has built, owns and
operates one brackish water RO plant in Spring Garden (St. Michael). It owned another at
Hope, St. Lucy, but this was closed in June 2004. The Spring Garden RO plant was
commissioned in February 2000, and converts brackish water from 10 wells. By
contractual agreement, Ionics/GE agrees to hand over ownership of the plant to the
Barbados Water Authority (BWA) after twenty years, and, until then, agrees to sell its
water exclusively to the BWA. Ionics/GE owns over 35 desalination plants in the
Caribbean. Sandy Lane Hotel, in the parish of St. James, owns the seawater RO plant,
built and operated by DesalCo, which is used primarily for maintenance of landscape and
for irrigation of the existing world-class golf course.
The desalinated water from the Spring
Garden plant is conducted into an
underground reservoir from its storage
tanks, where it mixes with chlorinated
groundwater. The higher conductivity
and nitrate levels of groundwater,
when diluted with the desalinated
water bring it to acceptable levels for
these parameters, in accordance with
WHO guidelines. The general public
initially complained of unpleasant
taste and slimy texture of the water,
but after public education efforts,
there now appears to be greater
acceptance. While no changes were
Spring Garden Reverse Osmosis Plant Barbados
made to the quality of water,
complaints declined to the point that
the public is now calling for increased desalination plants, according to the BWA.
Currently, desalinated water accounts for about twenty percent of the stored water fed into
the distribution network.
The Spring Garden RO plant operates at 50% of its capacity, producing 6 imgd. Energy
for the operations of the plant is derived from the national grid. The cost of the desalinated
water is only slightly higher than the cost of treated groundwater. This is due, among other
things, to the fact that the brackish water is of a relatively high quality (low salinity).
Because of this relatively low salinity of the brackish feed water, the brine can be
reintroduced via deep boreholes close to the coast, which does not cause salinity levels to
increase beyond the normal range for the receiving body.
The Barbados Water Authority boasts an island-wide distribution ne their own water but
these are largely for agricultural and golf course irrigation, and be twork that provides
access to 95% of all households. A small percentage of users supply verage manufacture.
The Authority had to undertake an increase in water rates with the implementation of
desalination along with other programmes addressing metering and unaccounted for
water.
THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

21

The Town and County Planning Department has to approve the plans and proposed
operations of desalination plants, including conducting a full EIA and monitoring
implementation. The department responsible for Development Protection in the Ministry of
Environment is responsible for water quality issues and the Coastal Zone Management
Unit (also in the Ministry of Environment) is responsible for monitoring the impact of
discharges to the coastal ecosystem. As the Spring Garden desalination project was
being developed, residents within a 1 km radius of the project were particularly addressed
as stakeholders and informed of the project and the implications as part of the EIA
process undertaken by the BWA.
The disadvantages of utilizing RO desalination technology in Barbados include: 1. the cost
and the fact that costs are tied to energy which is linked to rising oil prices; and 2.
uncertainty of the long term viability of the source of feed water. With intense abstraction,
if the levels of total dissolved solids rise sufficiently, the location of the plant could allow
for sea water abstraction, but the cost of replacing the membranes and pumps would
amount to construction of a new plant. Opportunities include the potential for
developments in technology to result in a reduction in the cost. This could offset the cost
of converting to sea water abstraction if that becomes necessary.
Desalination as an augmentation approach is consistent with the policy of the BWA. It
allows further access to unlimited and previously unusable brackish and seawater
resources.
British Virgin Islands
The British Virgin Islands (BVI), located 18 26' N, 64 40' W in the Northern Caribbean, is
about 60 miles east of Puerto Rico. This country is made up of 33 islands and cays in
total, of which only about 16 are inhabited, but the 5 main islands are: Tortola, Virgin
Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Peter Island and Anegada. The total area is approximately 153
km2 and the total population is estimated at 22, 643 (July 2005 est.).
The BVI comprise steep, hilly volcanic islands with the exception of Anegada ahich is a
flat coralline island. The climate is described as tropical and is moderated by the Trade
Winds. The rainy season is typically from May to November. Most of the economic activity
surrounds the tourism industry, which accounts for about 45% of the national income and
the registry of international companies. Some livestock rearing takes place and but arable
farming is negligible because of poor soil quality. Forest and woodland accounts for only
7% of the vegetation cover. The average annual rainfall is about 1250 mm/year. Like the
Bahamas, the BVI has limited freshwater resources. Most of their water comes from a few
seasonal streams and springs, wells on Tortola and rainwater harvesting.
In order to address the developmental needs of the country, particularly on the drier
islands, water augmentation was a major issue. As in other islands where this is a
traditional problem and not an emergent one, there have been several methodologies
employed to adapt to this situation. Rainwater harvesting has been employed, but this
would not be feasible for large scale application like the tourism industry.
The Water and Sewerage Department, is part of the Ministry of Communications and
Works, which provides 95% of the population with access to water. 90% of water
consumption is from domestic users. The estimated water out put is approximately 2
imgd.
Currently, there are 8 desalination plants in operation in the BVI. 7 of these plants are RO
plants and are owned by private companies, while the sole multi-stage flash distillation
22

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

system is owned by the local Electricity Corporation, which is a statutory body.


Companies typically enter into an agreement with the government whereby they agree to
supply desalinated water for a period of between 7 and 15 years, with options for renewal,
termination, or purchase of the plant in some instances.
All the desalination plants are established under build-own-operate agreements. The
government in most cases, will allocate state-owned land for the siting of the desalination
plant. Since desalination is viewed by the government as their sole means of satisfying
local demand, its policy is to support all efforts towards that end.
The Water and Sewerage Department indicated that the reject water from the various
desalination plants is disposed of in the open sea, with no negative impacts to the
environment. It is therefore assumed that some form of assessment was carried out to
make that determination, although a specific reference to such an assessment was not
made.
Desalinated water is purchased by the government at an average cost of US $18.60/1000
g (imperial) but the actual cost can range between US $9.00 US $20.00 per 1000 g.
Water is then sold at different rates depending on the customer.
Cost Structure for the Sale of Water to Broad Categories of Users in the BVI
Domestic Rates per gallon
US $0.012
US $0.015
US $0.015
US $0.018
Commercial Rates per gallon
1st 150,000 gallons
US $0.025
2nd 150,000 gallons
US $0.020
Over 150,000 gallons
US $0.015
Government Standard Rate per gallon
Unspecified volume
US $0.018
1st 1,000 gallons
2nd 1,000 gallons
3rd 1,000 gallons
Over 1,000 gallons

An indication of the social acceptability of desalinated water is measured by the


Department as the number of connections to the system. For a population of just over
20,000 people, there are 8,000 registered connections. Further, in the BVI, household
often maintain 2 connections: one to the mains and another to a household cistern. The
Water Department has indicated that feedback from several households suggest
desalinated water is the preferred source.
Plant operators and all but one manager is local. Given the heavy dependence and long
history with desalination in the BVI, it is not surprising that they would build local expertise
for the operation and maintenance of the plants.
Trinidad and Tobago
The twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the most southerly of the Caribbean
Islands, lies between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, northeast of
Venezuela and has a total area of approximately 5,128 sq km, and an estimated
population of 1,088,644 (July 2005 est.). Its geographic coordinates are 11 00 N, 61 00 W

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

23

and it enjoys a tropical climate, with a rainy season from June to December, annually. Its
terrain is dominated by plains with some hills and low mountains. The economy of
Trinidad and Tobago is largely fueled by its natural deposits of petroleum and natural gas
and much of the industrial activity surrounds these resources. Agriculture also plays an
important role, and tourism is expanding, although it is more significant in Tobago. The
industrial activity has implications for the water resources both in terms of demand and
pollution.
The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) is a government owned and operated
statutory authority, established under the Water and Sewerage ACT of 1965. Under this
Act and subsequent amendments, it is exclusively responsible for the provision of water
and wastewater services to Trinidad and Tobago. Currently, most of the potable water
distributed by the WASA comes from surface and groundwater water sources (65% and
25% respectively) and desalination (10%) and WASA claims 92% coverage of Trinidad
and Tobago. The authority estimates that 45% of the water entering the distribution
system, but not generating revenue is unaccounted for due to technical faults such as
leakage, while 6% is as a result of illegal access of the resource by persons. Other
problems identified by the Authority are what they refer to as an unrealistically low tariff
structure and a poor collection policy. There was an annual increase in water production
from 1997 to 2002 (276.8 to 346.7 million gallons), but despite this, there was still a net
deficit with respect to demand during this period.
WASAs assets that relate directly to drinking water are: 23 surface water treatment
facilities; 53 groundwater treatment facilities; 48 rural intakes and spring sources; 120
pumping stations (booster stations); approximately 6,000 kilometers of water mains
(pipeline) ranging from 20 mm to 1,350 mm in diameter; 4 raw water impounding
reservoirs: total storage of 68 million megaliters (15 billion gallons); and 436 wells. Daily
water production is of the order of 210 mgd. This represents a 217% increase over 1965
volumes. In Tobago, an increase in potable water availability is projected, particularly in
response to increased needs for the Tourism sector. There has been an increase in water
production in Tobago from 27.3 megalitres (6 million gallons) to 40.9 megalitres (9 million
gallons), over the last 5 years, and an increase to 12 54.5 megalitres (12 million gallons)
was projected for this year.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago, in its efforts to ensure a reliable water supply to
the Point Lisas Industrial Estate on the west coast of Trinidad and which houses the
heavy petrochemical plants, commissioned the construction of a desalination plant in the
late 1990s. Prior to the establishment of the desalination plant, however, a study was
conducted to evaluate the other options for water augmentation for the Point Lisas
Industrial Estate. 14 other sources were assessed and it was determined that desalination
was the best option. This study was undertaken by WASA in 1997. The recommendation
of this study led to the decision by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, to establish a
desalination plant at Point Lisas.
The plant at Point Lisas is privately owned by the Desalination Company of Trinidad and
Tobago (Desalcott), which is a joint venture between Ionics Inc. of Massachusettes, USA
(40% share) and Hafeez Karamath Engineering Ltd. of Trinidad and Tobago (60% share).
Desalcott is the largest desalination plant in the Caribbean at present. It cost an estimated
US $150,000,000 and employs about 80 persons full time. The plant occupies 7.5
hectares of land. Part of the establishment of the desalination plant included the
construction of a new transmission line to WASAs distribution network.
When the application was made to the Town and Country Planning Division for the
proposed desalination plant utilizing Reverse Osmosis technology to convert seawater
24

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

from the Gulf of Paria to the West of the Trinidad, it was stipulated that an Environmental
Impact Assessment (EIA) was a requirement because of the magnitude of the project. A
private engineering consulting firm was selected to undertake an extensive EIA that
considered impacts during both the construction and operational phases and looked at
issues including wastewater, solids, shipping, siltation, the economy, services and utilities,
social impacts, public safety, fishing, coastline development, air quality, noise, and
geotechnical factors.

Aerial View of Desalcott Reverse Osmosis Plant, Point Lisas Industrial Estate, Trinidad

This EIA was perhaps the most extensive EIA ever done for a desalination project in the
Caribbean. (In the most of the other countries from which information was sought, there
was no indication that an EIA was required or conducted.) According to the EIA, Desalcott
satisfied all the parameters stipulated to ensure safety to the public and the environment.
The product water was found to contain less than 85 mg/l contained of totally suspended
solids, which is considerably less than the WHO guidelines figure of 500 mg/l; and 55 mg/l
of chlorides. The temperature of the water is also less than 35C, although it is slightly
higher than ambient water temperature.
The reject water is returned to the Yara Trinidad Limited (formally Hydro Agri) outfall
channel via an outfall pipeline. Yara is a private international and multinational company,
involved in the manufacture and distribution of nitrogenous fertilizers. The reject water
from the desalination plant is thermally elevated as is the waste from Yara Trinidad Ltd.
The EIA indicated that the additional output from Desalcott would not have a negative
impact on the coastal or marine environment, particularly as it related to the nearby
mangrove as long as the combined effluent concentrations of a variety of contaminants
did not exceed 40 ppt. Solids derived from silt emanating from the filtration process are
treated and transported to a local landfill. Desalcott has indicated its intention to apply for
this material to be classified as a by-product, which can then be reused. The plant emits
no noxious discharges.

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

25

The schematic diagram below outlines the reverse osmosis desalination process as it
operates at Point Lisas and provides details of the pretreatment which removes much of
the particulate matter or sediments from the feed water.
Desalcott is contractually bound to sell water to the Water and Sewerage Authority
(WASA) for 20 years, commencing from the establishment of the plant in August 1999,
until it is sold over to WASA. As with most other Caribbean countries, WASA entered into
a build-own-operate arrangement with Desalcott. At the time that the desalination plant
was conceptualized, it was the intention that it serve as a dedicated water source for the
Point Lisas Industrial Estate, although its water could be made available to other WASAs
other customers. According to WASAs 2005 Prospectus, 109,090m3 of water is
purchased daily. This RO plant supplies high quality water, which is more expensive than
the domestic water produced by WASA from surface and groundwater sources.

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Schematic Representation of RO Process at Desalcott Plant, Point Lisas, Trinidad

According to the Trinidad Guardian, June 24, 2004, there has been an ongoing dispute
between Desalcott and WASA leading to arbitration, over the price paid to Desalcott by
WASA for water. This stemmed from the claim by Desalcott that the company was entitled
to a 10% increase in the cost of water during the first year of the contract. The initial price
paid for water from Desalcott was US 0. 71/m3 and the increase would see a change in
cost to US 0. 78/m3. 70% of the water from Desalcott is resold to the petrochemical plants
at Point Lisas at US $1.17/m3. The current cost is reported by Desalcott asbeing one of
the lowest in the world for desalinated water.
In 2002, 13% of the WASAs expenditure was from the purchase of water from Desalcott.
The tariff structure recognizes 2 major categories: domestic and non-domestic users.
These groups are further subdivided by activity or the type of premises. It is not based on
the cost of producing or supplying water to the particular class of customer, except where
desalinated water is purchased from Desalcott and resold to Point Lisas Industries. The
tariff structure was implemented in 1993 and varied depending on variables such as
whether the users were metered or un-metered, domestic (TT $1.75m3), agricultural,
commercial, industrial, charitable organisations, etc.

26

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

According to the Regulated Industries Commissions Review of the Status of the Water
and Sewerage Authority, about half of the 22 mgd generated by Desalcott is made
available to the Point Lisas Industrial Estate. By Desalcotts estimation, Point Lisas
industries consume on average, 70,000 m3 per day. The Ministry of Public Utilities and the
Environment is responsible for policy formulation and the granting and revocation o
licenses to water providers. WASA has to seek approval from the Ministry of Finance for
any large capital projects as the Government will either allocate such funding from the
national budget, guarantee loans from the commercial sector, or, in conjunction with the
Ministry of Planning and Development, will seek funding from international agencies.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the WHO guidelines for
drinking water safety, in the absence of national standards. The Environmental Protection
Authority (EMA) is a statutory body, established by the EMA Act of 1995 to address
environmental protection and conservation including the monitoring the effluent levels and
from trade activities including effluent from the desalination plant.
WASA continues to explore and increase its production of potable water. They have
projected to replace the pipeline network as part of its commitment to improving the
service provided to customers, and meeting the Governments 2020 Vision Objectives.
St. Lucia
St. Lucia is approximately 616 km2 and is one of the Windward Islands making up the East
Caribbean Archipelago. Its coordinates are 14 N, 60 W; and it lies between the islands of
Martinique to the north and St. Vincent to the south; and approximately 100 miles
northwest of Barbados. The island is volcanic in nature and is dominated by a
mountainous interior with several coastal and river valleys. The country enjoys a tropical
maritime climate with a wet season from June to December and a dry season from
January to May annually. Rainfall varies widely across the island, so that annual rainfall
for the extreme northern and southern ends of the island approximate 1,200 mm while the
more mountainous central region sees about 3,500 mm annually. Most of the rainfall is
drained to the sea via surface channels, as there are no natural lakes or ponds for water
collection.
Most of the economic activity in St. Lucia surrounds the tourism sector, agriculture, some
manufacturing and offshore banking. The population is particularly dense in the north of
the island in the districts of Castries and Gros Islet. The rate of growth of the tourism
sector places demands on the water resources of the island. Many of the larger hotels and
resorts are located in the north of the island as well.
The supply of potable water is the responsibility of the Water and Sewerage Corporation
(WASCO), which is a statutory board responsible for provision of water to the public and
for securing within the parameters of the legislation under which it was established, to
secure the resource for projected demand. The Water and Sewage Act of 1999 is the
legislation governing WASCOs operations. Under this Act, a National Water and
Sewerage Commission was appointed by the government. The function of this
commission is to oversee the provision of licences for water abstraction, make
recommendations to the responsible Minister for water resources preservation, regulation
(with respect to quality, standards and economics), handle public complaints, affix tariffs
to water and sewage services and maintain information related to water resources in St.
Lucia. 2001 census data and WASCO reports suggest that 90% of the population has
access to water from the Company (including illegal connections). About 36,000
households are legally connected to the distribution system.

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

27

WASCO is allowed to undertake its functions for 25 years commencing from the
commencement of the Act, and is also expected to carry out government policy in relation
to water supply and sewerage and provide the public with dependable sewerage services,
and to provide the public with a safe, adequate and reliable supply of water. WASCO also
has responsibility for conserving, redistributing and augmenting water resources in St.
Lucia, in conjunction with the Water and Sewerage Commission. The Water Resources
Management Project was developed to facilitate water resource assessment, watershed
management, rationalisation of existing institutional frameworks and public awareness
and sensitization.
In order to secure the quantity and quality of water, WASCO can declare certain areas
forest reserves or protected forests in accordance with the Forest Soil and Water
Conservation Ordinance, Cap 25; or controlled areas under section 36. WASCO may also
request that action be taken by the Ministry of Health, through the Minister, under the
Public Health Act of 1975, or related legislation, to prevent and regulate threats to any
gathering ground. To improve water management, the government also established
policies for the development of National Coastal Zone Management, National Water and
National Land Use Policies.
WASCO does not at this time utilize desalination was a water augmentation option, and
currently, there is also no official government policy regarding desalination. However, the
Government did consider the establishment of a desalination plant in the north of the
island to address the inability of WASCO to meet demand in this area, as part of a
comprehensive strategy to strengthen the water sector.
The Gros Islet district in the extreme north of the island is home to a number of major
hotels and resorts, and also to some of the more affluent sectors of the population. There
is also tremendous potential for further physical development, but water constraints have
limited construction activity. Water feeding the north comes from the Roseau Dam which
has a capacity of 750 million gallons, while the output of the Theobalds Water Treatment
Plant which it feeds is approximately 6.0 imgd. This supplies about 80% of the 86,000
residents in the north of the island.
In 2005 an environmental assessment was undertaken by the World Bank in order to
determine which of two options presented would be most appropriate to improve water
availability in the north. One option proposed increasing the capacity of the existing
distribution; while the other spoke of implementing a mobile desalination plant at Pigeon
Point in Gros Islet.
Ultimately, the capacity upgrade alternative was selected because it was determined that
this would address the water needs of not just the problematic area but would serve a
wider area beyond for the next 10 15 years, with fewer potential environmental impacts.
It would also do this at lower cost.
The desalination plant would have produced 20,000m3/day and incurred a cost that would
then be passed on to all consumers, so that poorer sectors of the population would
essentially be subsidizing water for the more wealthy sectors. The energy demand of the
desalination plant was another concern. It was also predicted that water dedicated from
the desalination plant to serve a specific area, which also has a high growth potential
would fuel construction activity thereby driving up water demand beyond the anticipated
figures. The proposed site for the desalination plant was in an area that has archeological
and historical significance. It is also a particularly picturesque location and thus important
for the tourism industry. There were also concerns that the sensitive environment would
be irrevocably impacted upon. The site would have occupied 2,200 ft2 and would require
28

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

electrical and back-up generator support as well as a connection to the WASCO


distribution mains.
Desalination plants are used by at least 2 resorts in St. Lucia with approval for another
currently pending. The type used in both cases is reverse osmosis. The newest Sandals
resort, Sandals Grande St. Lucian Beach Resort and Spa on the Pigeon Island Causeway
uses desalination sporadically to make up for shortfall in supply by WASCO. Ti Kaye
Village Resort, a smaller property on the west coast of the island where WASCOs
distribution network does not extend, uses brackish water as the feed water. In the case of
Sandals, their desalinated water is mixed with water supplied by WASCO in storage.
The plant used by Ti Kaye, which is touted as being the first on the island, utilizes energy
of about 162 kwh/day and produces 6,000 imperial gallons/day. The resort owns and
operates its plant, which was commissioned in 2001. Although staff received no specific
training save what was provided by the manufacturer upon installation, they are confident
that they have the experience and expertise to operate and maintain it. The ratio of brine
to product water is 50:50 using membranes at 6000 psi. They do not treat with chlorine,
but they do use an anti-scalant and treat periodically with acid and alkaline solutions. The
main issue observed with this operation, is the discharge into a shallow ravine, in close
proximity to a mangrove. It was revealed by the resort management that neither the
Ministry of Planning nor any other local agency was involved in the planning, approval,
review or implementation of this desalination plant.
St. Lucia has recently adopted a Water Sector Policy and re-established a Water &
Sewerage Commission, to regulate water supply and improve water resources
management. Efforts to improve water supply include encouraging additional investment
in the sector and licensing of additional operators. It is expected that new service
providers will come on-stream in the future and it remains to be seen what options will be
explored. WASCO however is exploring the option of increased groundwater exploration
and it is felt that this provides great potential, once tapped. There therefore seems to be
limited potential for desalination making a serious dent in the traditional water supply
market in the near future, bearing in mind the relatively higher cost of desalination over
groundwater abstraction. However, it has been observed that proposals for the
establishment of new plants have to be evaluated by the Ministry of Planning and the
other regulatory agencies and CEHI, prior to construction.
Grenada
The Tri-Island State of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique is located 11 58 north
latitude and 61 20 west longitude and has an area of about 345 km2 with a population of
approximately 104,814 (2003). Grenada displays the typical volcanic topography with the
characteristic mountain ranges. Carriacou also has a few significant elevations. Petit
Martinique, however, is of lower topography. Whereas Grenada has significant surface
and spring water sources, the islands of Carriacou and Petit Martinique do not have such
resources and rely heavily on rainwater harvesting and to a much lesser extent, on
groundwater.
The National Water and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA) of Grenada has the mandate for
the supply of potable water and currently manages 3 reverse osmosis desalination plants
costing a total of EC $12 million: one in Grenada, one in Carriacou and one in Petit
Martinique. These plants are roughly 5 years old with the one with the smallest capacity
(30,000 gpd) located in Petite Martinique. Carriacou has an output capacity of 100,000 US
gpd; and the plant in Woburn, Grenada was designed for an output of 400,000 US gpd.

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

29

RO Plant in Carriacou

On the mainland Grenada, as in St. Lucia,


the plant was erected to augment the
existing available surface freshwater
sources which is abstracted to meet the
public demand. In Carriacou and Petite
Martinique the main source of freshwater
is rainwater and the desalination plants
were built with the aim of providing a
reliable and secure source of freshwater
especially during the dry season. All of
the plants were originally purchased by
the Government of Grenada from
American Engineering Services (AES)
and turned over to NAWASA.

During the site visits to these plants between November 16 and 18, 2005, none of the
plants were operational. In Grenada, the plant located at Woburn, in the south of the
island, had not yet been commissioned. There have been several setbacks related initially
to the location of this plant. In Carriacou and Petit Martinique, the plants have been
commissioned, but appear to be plagued with a number of operational and maintenance
problems. Interviews with NAWASA revealed that there is no service contract with the
manufacturer, and as a result, any technical assistance required is at full cost to
NAWASA.

RO Plant in Petit Martinique

Currently, desalination may appear


to be good water augmentation
option for the water scarce islands
of Petit Martinique and Carriacou,
but in practice, there have been
several problems. These islands
have no surface water however;
some groundwater is abstracted
through boreholes and made
available to about 10 % of the
residents
in
Carriacou.
The
boreholes often contain brackish
water and their locations are largely
inconvenient since there is no
distribution network, save for a small
area in Hillsborough, the main town
in Carriacou.

Water for most purposes is derived from rainwater harvesting, which is extensively
practiced on the two small islands. There are communal rainwater harvesting systems, but
most are in a state of disrepair. Most persons and businesses, agencies etc. have
individual rainwater harvesting systems and cisterns. The level of technology employed
depends on the economic status of the residents and range from rooftop catchments with
concrete or metal cisterns constructed within buildings and underground, to plastic water
storage tanks located outdoor, to metal or plastic 55 gallons drums. The existence of
individual household rainwater harvesting systems and the associated level of
convenience, competes with the fact that the desalinated water has to be trucked to the
user at his own cost. In the islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique there is also a

30

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

history and culture of sourcing free water so payment for desalinated water is a deterring
element to the consumers and therefore it has to be heavily subsidized.
Desalinated water is currently offered at EC $0.02/gallon when the actual cost of
production is closer to EC $18-20/1000 gallons. This figure is derived from the energy
costs of about EC $8.00/1,000 imperial gallons; and from the cost of maintenance,
consumables and replacement parts (including costly chemicals and membranes, filters
etc.) and operations costs, all of which total about US $50,000 per month (not including
shipping). This estimate is based on a similar plant in operation in Cyprus. For the
Carriacou plant, which has a storage capacity of only 10,000 gallons, and an output
capacity of 100,000 gpd, the annual expenditure as it relates to maintenance would be
about EC $269,469.53.00 (excluding operations and shipping costs).There was no service
contract with the manufacturer, so as a result, NAWASA is forced to use its resources for
all operations and maintenance costs, making the cost of desalinated water highly
subsidized.
The acceptance of desalinated water as a potable source is major hurdle facing NAWASA
in Carriacou and Petite Martinique. There exists the public perception that rainwater is
safer and healthier than desalinated water and when available the desalinated water is
mainly used in the construction sector. A random survey carried out within several
communities revealed that, even under drought conditions, persons were reluctant to
consume desalinated water. Whereas, most had never tasted the water, they complained
that they did not like the taste of NAWASAs water from the mains in Grenada due to the
chlorine treatment. Some complained that they had never been advised that desalinated
water was safe for consumption.
Additionally, the capacities of the storage tanks for the desalinated water in Petit
Martinique and Carriacou are insufficient, making production of potable water a function of
the immediate demand. Because the demand and storage capacity is relatively low, the
plants are often unused for long periods at a time, and that has proven to impact
negatively on their efficient functioning, leading to frequent need for servicing. The
alternative is to produce water that is then discarded, in order to keep the equipment
running. Either way, there is a significant cost incurred by NAWASA.

Severe Corrosion of Metal Surfaces at the Petit Martinique


RO Plant

In addition to the problems


already identified, the plants all
utilize seawater as their feed
water and are thus positioned
on the coast. One of the
problems
identified
by
NAWASA is that damage to
the suction pipes resulting
from
severe
weather
conditions. Location of the
plants has also been the
subject of much debate
because
of
the
noise
associated with the operations
however, the potential impacts
of brine disposal was less
debated.

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

31

The quality of feed water was also cited as a problem in Petit Martinique in particular
where the plant was located in an area that saw the accumulation of tidal debris from
land-based and marine sources. This plant also showed evidence of severe corrosion on
the outside metal structures. There was no impact assessment carried out prior to the
siting of the plants.
There is no official policy, legislation or regulations specifically addressing desalinated
water, however, under the National Water and Sewerage Authority Act (1990), NAWASA
is given authority over all surface water and groundwater in Grenada.
According to this Act, the Authority shall have full power over all waters
whether surface or underground in the State of Grenada, and shall collate
and publish information from which assessment can be made of the actual
and prospective water resources in the State. Additionally, the Authority shall,
unless unavoidable, be responsible for the provision of a satisfactory supply
of potable water for domestic purposes and an otherwise satisfactory supply
of water for agricultural, industrial commercial purposes and for such other
purposes as may be prescribed by the Minister.
Essentially, the Act covers all areas such as the institutional arrangement of the Authority
and the administration of the powers vested in this body, the powers of entry and
acquisition for water and sewerage works, financial provisions, rates and charges,
acquisition of property and wells and boreholes. Catchment areas are given emphasis and
measures for the protection and conservation are outlined along with the collaborative
arrangement with the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry Division for the management of
these areas.
The fact that the Government invested in the reverse osmosis plants seems to suggest
that there is a definite tendency by the political directorate to opt for desalination as a
means of source augmentation and rely less on traditional surface, ground and rainwater
sources.
A few hotels and resorts e.g. in Culligen have small desalination plants which they have
erected to augment their water supply. It is assumed that this is more feasible than for the
municipal supply because the actual costs can more easily be passed on to the
consumer.
Mexico:
The country has been divided into 653 hydro geological units or aquifers, 102 of which are
overexploited. Moreover, there are 17 aquifers with salt-water intrusion problems, located
in Baja California, Baja California Sur, Colima, Sonora, and Veracruz.
During the study it was detected that before thinking of acquiring a desalting unit in
Mexico, it is necessary to consider the following aspects: seriousness of the company,
which offers the service and technical support, technical competence, previous
experience, continuous operators training schemes, system complexity, and the
consideration of a pre-treatment unit as a fundamental part of system operation.
In the next years it is predicted that Mexico will have a low water supply availability
(between 1000 to 5000 annual cubic meters per person, equivalent to 3 to 15 m3 per
day)[1] With this scenario, the Mexican government has taken actions to solve the
problem. In 2004, the government gave the first concession for the municipal largest

32

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

desalting plant in Mexico, 200L/s for Los Cabos in Baja California. The cost of this plant is
25,000,000 EUROS, this plant is going to operate on September of 2006.
To December 2003, 203 desalting plants have been reported in Mexico. However, part of
them are being operated by municipalities and do not work appropriately, due to the lack
of qualified personnel, poor service from the suppliers, administrative problems and high
operating and maintenance costs. Just to mention a single case, in the State of Quintana
Roo (south of Mexico) there exist some plants of reverse osmosis located in Xcalk near
Chetumal, or Contoy Island, which are practically abandoned.
The following table shows the results of the survey in order to know the number of
desalting plants in the country to December 2003.
National Inventory of desalting plants in Mexico include installed capacity, whether
the plant is in operation or not and the operation capacity
State

Desalting
plants

% National

Operate

Installed
capacity

Yes

No

m3/d

Baja California

10

4.95%

9,540

BCS

38

18.81%

32

8,979

Campeche

0.99%

3,120

Coahuila

3.47%

78

Durango

24

11.88%

15

650

Guerrero

1.98%

2,000

Nuevo Len

0.99%

325

Oaxaca

0.50%

13,478

Q. Roo

107

52.97%

88

19

38,995

SLP

0.50%

60

Sonora

2.48%

471

Tamaulipas

0.50%

1,728

203

100%

150

53

79,424

Total Country

Operation
capacity
m3/d
8,040
3,346
750
31
374
900
325
13,478
23,266
5
80
363
52,340

According to the data, desalting capacity in Mexico is around 79,424 m3/d (919 l/s). Sixty
four percent of the desalting plants belong to private owners, mainly of the tourism
industry. States that present an important growth in these units are Quintana Roo
(Cancun and the Riviera Maya) and Baja California Sur (Los Cabos), mainly due to new

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

33

projected tourist developments. The technical and economic study of the processes
demonstrated that the reverse osmosis is an economic option for desalting seawater and
brackish water in Mexico, because the new techniques for the energy saving are available
and the membranes have improved. Production costs have been obtained up to 0.39
USD/m3. Twenty six percent of the desalination plants do not operated.
The following table shows the desalting plants per process and State where the plants are
located.
Desalting plants per process and State of location
State

Delsalting
plants

Process

RO

VC

MSF

Solar

Baja California

10

BCS

38

32

Campeche

Coahuila

Durango

24

24

Guerrero

Nuevo Len

Oaxaca

Q. Roo

107

106

San Luis Potos

Sonora

Tamaulipas

Total National

202

187

Solar
experimental [2]
0
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
1

RO: Reverse osmosis, VC: Vapor compression, MSF: Multistage Flash Destilation
The most popular system for water desalination in Mexico is reverse osmosis, with 52% of
the plant. 60% of the desalting plants (121) are for hotel uses, with 38,878 m3/d (450 l/s),
30% for municipal uses (61) (213 l/s) and 10% for industrial uses with a installed capacity
of 256 l/s).

34

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Conclusions
Why desalination?
Desalination appears to have been chosen as an augmentation source, where the public
utility is either unable to or unwilling to provide water in sufficient quantity to the client. In
some cases, the public utility simply does not have the capacity to provide in sufficient
volume for the needs of some larger customers (e.g. industry in Trinidad or hotels
elsewhere in the region). In other cases, the islands are so remote from a central supplier
that it has proven more cost effective to set up small units for these communities (e.g.
Bahamas family islands; Barbuda). In these situations, the lack of adequate rainfall or
sufficient alternative water sources requires that brackish or seawater be utilized.
Types
Two main categories of desalination technologies exist: thermal and membrane
technologies. Thermal technologies rely on heat as the name suggests, and essentially
require increasing the heat and reducing the pressure of the feed water to cause
vaporization, then cooling to cause condensation of the vapour to produce fresh water.
The main types that are offered commercially are: Multi-stage Flash Distillation; Multieffect Distillation and Vapour Compression Distillation.
Reverse Osmosis is just one type of membrane technology. Other types, which are not
common in the Caribbean include: Electrodialysis and Electrodialysis Reversal.
Desalination plants are mostly of the RO type in the region. One company alone has
supplied over 35 of these plants to various clients. These plants have been installed for
small communities and for large industrial parks. In fact the largest desalination plant in
the Caribbean is a reverse osmosis plant. Their modular construction allows them to be
sized for various uses and production rates.
The distillation-type desalination plant has also been utilized to a limited extent. In
Antigua, a Multi-Stage Flash Distillation plant, consisting of two desalination units has
been in operation since the 1980s. This plant is part of a co-generating facility, which uses
excess steam from an electricity generating plant to produce desalinated water. In the
absence of the co-generation, it is unlikely that this type of facility would be competitive in
price with modern RO plants. A similar system exists in the Bahamas, owned and
operated by the Water and Sewerage Corporation.
Challenges
The major challenge in relation to desalination has been the significantly higher cost of
producing potable water, compared to traditional sources. Additionally, the technology has
not been well understood until perhaps more recently, and therefore the operation of such
facilities has been left to those considered highly skilled. Even when the Build-OwnOperate-Transfer (BOOT) approach is taken, it has not always been exercised due to high
maintenance costs and inadequate training within the public utilities.
Operational difficulties have been reported such as voltage fluctuation, which has resulted
in production capacity being reduced at times. Another operational problem related to
sand passing through a filter and destroying the membrane in some units. Water pressure
fluctuations have also resulted in filter damage, requiring new filters, of a different design,
to replace those damaged.

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

35

Most desalination plants in the Caribbean are located close to the sea. As such, general
corrosion problems have been observed with metal parts and equipment, requiring more
regular maintenance. In Grenada, destruction of the suction pipes during bad weather
have also been a problem.
Opportunities
Desalination plants, particularly RO plants, are becoming increasingly easier to operate.
Additionally, the cost of the technology seems to be going down, which is making
desalination more affordable. The increasing cost of energy however remains an on-going
challenge and may be canceling out any gains made with respect to capital cost of RO
plants.
One particular water utility has been considering the use of desalination in order to offer
expanded commercial services to hotels, in particular. Based on the difference between
commercial rates and domestic rates, it seems to be a business opportunity worth
pursuing.
Legal and regulatory overlay
Across the region, there is an emerging trend towards privatization of water supply and
increasing the competition within that sector. Desalination fits nicely within that particular
framework, where governments seem more willing to license private operators and even
engage in exclusive contracts with these operators, to supplement water produced by
public utilities. In most cases, operators of desalination plants must meet certain
regulatory requirements. However these requirements are generally related to the public
interest, such as protection of public health and the environment, and have not acted as
deterrents to the growth of desalination.
Socio-Economic & environmental setting
Desalination has been an attractive option in the countries of the region with higher per
capita income, or at locations considered to be of high revenue-generating potential. This
is related to the higher cost of desalination compared to traditional water supply sources.
Typically desalination has been used in countries which have large tourism infrastructure
or where heavy industry, requiring large amounts of process water, is present. In the
current economic environment in the Caribbean, it is likely that desalination will remain a
last resort, when compared to alternative sources such as surface water, groundwater and
rain water.
The environmental impacts of desalination have been studied and have been generally
found to be minimal. The Caribbean has a long history of using desalination now and is
better able to assess the potential negative impacts. Public acceptance appears to be
high for this technology. Where this has not been the case, the problem stems from the
lack of public education.
Of note is the potential for contamination of raw water used for desalination in cogenerating facilities (e.g. from oil).
Future potential
The tourism industry, in particular, appears to present the greatest opportunity for
utilization of desalination. Visitors to the region usually expect to be able to enjoy their
vacation without having to ration water. As such, investors in the tourism industry seem
36

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

willing to consider desalination as an alternative source of supply when the public supply
cannot be guaranteed or is unreliable.
As the water sector deregulates itself, more opportunities for private sector operators will
emerge. This should ultimately benefit the consumer, as these private sector operators
will need to provide a competitive product. This may lead to improved technology for
desalination, in order to reduce the cost of production.
Given the fact that RO plants use comparatively less energy, it appears as the patterns
already indicate, that this will be the best option for exploitation where desalination is
undertaken or expanded. Improvements to the membranes to improve durability and
reduce the cost, would have the effect of not just retaining its popularity as the technology
of choice, but would quite likely increase the use of this technology in the region.

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

37

Recommendations
This study has revealed a few gaps and weaknesses that should be addressed as the
countries go forward with desalination as a water augmentation option.
At the policy level, the national government is strongly encouraged to develop a policy
position where desalination is concerned so as to manage this water augmentation option
in the scheme of other policies and plans already in place for this resource at the national
level. There should be clear policies and procedures for the application process, and
evaluation and review of the application taking into account environmental and social
factors, once it has been determined to be economically feasible.
Also important is monitoring of the plant to ensure compliance with public health and
safety standards and guidelines, and environmental protection laws and regulations.
These procedures will be useful particularly where the national water utility does not
manage or is not involved in desalination and private entities undertake to pursue this
option. It is important that the interests of all the relevant stakeholders are represented
and that ultimately, decisions made that fall within the national policy and recognize
sustainability issues.
All attempts should be made to share information and lessons learned, particularly for
knowledge transfer from countries with a longer history, more experience and more
expertise to their less familiar counterparts. Where technological adaptations have yielded
advantages or increased efficiencies, there should be a medium for sharing this
information. Apart form professional associations that provide some of this type of sharing,
such as the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA), this medium should
go further e.g. facilitate the development of model legislation. The Caribbean Basin Water
Management Programme (CBWMP) may be such an instrument. The situation in the
Grenadine Islands of Petit Martinique and Carriacou has demonstrated the need to
educate the public and the success of this approach in Barbados supports this point. This
is necessary for countries where desalinated water in being introduced to a population
that has traditionally relied on other sources, and where myths or lack of knowledge of
desalination may have produced negative perceptions.
Public information and education should also focus on the actual cost of desalinated
water, even where it is subsidized by government so that consumers have a realistic idea
of the cost of water. This should be a core part of water conservation education. As the
demand for the resource increases, unless technologies evolve to the point where the
cost of production drops, governments may find it difficult to maintain the subsidies and
the public would need to be suitably prepared for any increase in tariff rates.
In countries where rainfall is more reliable, other augmentation options such as rainwater
harvesting can be encouraged at the policy level as in Antigua and Barbuda, so that the
demand from the municipal supply is decreased and allow for a reduction in government
subsidies for desalinated water but resulting in little impact on the cost to consumers. As
in Barbados, countries should also approach water management holistically with
emphasis not just on increasing the output to the distribution system, but also maintaining
the system to reduce unaccounted for water.
The increased use of desalination in the Caribbean appears to be inevitable. The only
question surrounds the extent to which it will be applied as a water augmentation option,
or alternative to other augmentation options. Therefore efforts should be made to manage
the implementation and the impacts that it could have in each country. The greatest
consideration so far is the disposal of the brine and the return on investment. Once
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THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

policies have been put in place to address these and the concerns of all the stakeholders,
the application of desalination will most likely result in positive impacts on the country, as
physical development and expansion of services is contingent upon water availability.
Development is inextricably linked to water availability.

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

39

Sources of Information
Antigua/Barbuda
John Bradshaw, Water Manager, Antigua Public Utilities Authority
Daniel Aburime, Production Engineer, Crabbs Power & Desalination Plant, APUA
Rodney Dickenson, Plant Manager, Enerserve/Veolia Water, Crabbs
Thierry Le Cras, Enerserve/Veolia Water, Crabbs
Bahamas
Dr. Richard Cant, Assistant General Manager, Water & Sewerage Corporation
Barbados
Dr. John Bwalya Mwansa, Project Manager, Barbados Water Resources Management
and Water Loss Studies, Barbados Water Authority
O. Carlyle Bourne, International Hydrological Programme Focal Point, Ministry of
Agriculture
Harriet Waldron, Ionics/GE
Grenada
Lester Arnold, Operations Manager, NAWASA
Alphonsus Daniel, Consultant, Daniel and Daniel Consulting, Grenada
Mexico
Manuel Fuentes, Water Quality and Treatment Coordinator, IMTA
Trinidad & Tobago
John Thompson, The Desalination Company of Trinidad & Tobago (Desalcott), Point
Lisas
Claire McEwan, Desalcott, Point Lisas
St. Lucia
Shanta King, Operations Manager, Water & Sewerage Company (WASCO)

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THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

References
Final Report of the Workshop on Alternative Technologies for Freshwater
Augmentation in the Caribbean (Barbados, 24-27 October 1995), and (Lima, Peru,
19-22 September 1995), OAS/UNEP
The Cost of Environmental and Social Sustainability of Desalination; by Loizos
Loizides, Bsc, Msc, Dip. in Marine Pollution Chemistry
http://www.oas.org/osde/publications/Unit/oea59e/ch09.htm#
http://www.guardian.co.tt/archives/2004-06-29/bussguardian3.html
http://www.ric.org.tt/home/news/ReviewOfStatusOfWASA.pdf
Drought Hazard Assessment and Mapping for Antigua and Barbuda , PostGeorges Disaster Mitigation Project in Antigua & Barbuda and St. Kitts & Nevis,
April 2001
http://www.halcrowwaterservices.co.uk/pdf/The%20sea%20shall%20quench.pdf
Introduction to Desalination Technologies, Hari J. Krishna, 2005
Lester H. Forde PhD; Water for the People, A Water Supply and Sanitation NGO;
Public-Private Cooperation in Water Supply provision: An Example From Trinidad
and Tobago
Environmental Impact Assessment for Desalination Plant at Point Lisas,
Ecoengineering consultants Limited, 23 November 1999
Feasibility Study on the Establishment of a Desalination Plant in Barbados, William
Ambrose Johnson, October 1996
http://countrystudies.us/caribbean-islands/109.htm
http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/

THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

41

Acronyms & Technical Abbreviations


APUA
BWRO
BWA
CBWMP
CEHI
CWWA
EIA
GOBSE
IMTA
MSFD
NAWASA
RO
SIDS
UNESCO
WSC
WASA
WASCO
WHO
WRMWLS

Antigua Public Utilities Authority


Brackish Water Reverse Osmosis
Barbados Water Authority
Caribbean Basin Water Management Programme
Caribbean Environmental Health Institute
Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association
Environmental Impact Assessment
Government of Barbados State of the Environment Report
Mexican Institute of Water Technology
Multi-Stage Flash Distillation
National Water and Sewerage Authority
Reverse Osmosis
Small Island Developing States
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Water and Sewerage Corporation
Water and Sewerage Authority
Water and Sewerage Corporation
World Health Organisation
Water Resources Management and Water Loss Studies

gpd
imgd
km2
kwh/d
l/d
mgd
m3/d
mg/l
ppm

gallons per day


millions of imperial gallons per day
square kilometers
kilowatt hours per day
litres per day
millions of gallons per day
cubic metres per day
milligrams per litre
part per million

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Appendix 1

Desalination by Reverse Osmosis

Desalination is essentially the process by which water is pressurized through a semipermeable membrane to remove various minerals, salts, ions and microorganisms in
order to make it potable and suitable for a number of other functions that require high
quality water. Water is said to have undergone this process when the salt and ion content
is reduced to less than 1,000 mg/l. The most popular commercial method of desalination
in the Caribbean is Reverse Osmosis.
This process involves three water streams: feed water which is the source water used for
the process; product water or permeate, which is the desalinated water intended for use;
and reject water, also called brine or concentrate, which is the waste water from the
process.
The feed water can be seawater or brackish water. Because of the lower salt content of
brackish water, it takes less energy to remove the salts from this source and the salinity of
the brine also results in potentially less impact on the receiving body, if that body is the
ocean. The cost of desalinated water is therefore influenced by the amount of energy
consumed in the process, which is in turn dependant on the concentration of the
seawater, the operating pressure and the energy recovery system that is used. New
plants need about 3.5-5 kWh per cubic metre of potable water.
A simple diagrammatic representation of the process of Reverse Osmosis is captured
below:

Source: O.K. Buros, et. Al., The USAID Desalination Manual, Englewood, N.J., U.S.A.,
IDEA Publications

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The following illustrates the process by which water is separated over the membranes:

Reverse

Osmosis Module

The options for the disposal of the brine can include the disposal into deep saline aquifers
or surface waters, which have a higher salt content. In some cases, it can be diluted with
treated effluent and reused for irrigation of golf courses.
The challenges associated with this system, and which are characteristic of desalination
plants in general are:
The dependence on energy
The cost of energy
The safe disposal of the brine
The potential impact of poor weather on the feed water quality
The benefits include:
The relatively short time within which these packaged systems can be erected and
operationalized
The relative ease with which plants can be expanded
Reliability of these systems once they are properly maintained
The reliability of source water, particularly seawater, compared to traditional
sources such as surface and ground water
Provision of water in countries with no other water options such as small islands
with no surface or groundwater and no reliable rainfall, such as some of the
islands and cays of the Bahamas.
In the Caribbean, reverse osmosis plants are currently more popular than thermal
distillation plants and they compare favourably because:
The overall energy consumption is lower than that of MSFD (about one half to one
third depending on the technology). Lower energy consumption means fewer
atmospheric emissions from fuel combustion.
The temperature increase of the water is negligible. There are no thermal outfall
problems. Distillation plants discharge the brine with a temperature of about 10 to
15C above the seawater temperature

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THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

High recovery rate of freshwater (30% 70%) from seawater compared to thermal
distillation (10%)
The disadvantages compared with thermal distillation includes:
RO plants produce much more solid waste than thermal plants.
There are no acceptable solutions for the disposal or reuse of the membrane
systems.
The higher recovery rate means that a more concentrated brine is produced, (13.
1.7 times more concentrated than the raw salinity), which can have greater impact
on the receiving body or which requires more treatment before discharge

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Appendix 2
Desalination by Multi-Stage Flash Distillation
Distillation as a desalination
process involves heating the
influent saltwater until it is
vaporized, and thus separated
from
its
other
constituent
elements, before being cooled to
produce freshwater. One of the
methods by which this can be
carried out commercially involves
a type of thermal technology
called
Multi-Stage
Flash
Distillation.
Seawater is heated in a brine heater along a bank of tubes that is heated by condensed
steam from within. The heated seawater then flows into another chamber called a stage
where the pressure is modified to facilitate immediate boiling of the water. This results in
the flashing of the heated seawater into steam. Typically, only a small percentage of the
seawater making it to this chamber is converted to desalinated water. In some systems,
the seawater can be passed through a number of stages with increasingly lower pressure,
so that the water is boiled repeatedly without increasing the temperature. An MSFD plant
can have anywhere from 4 to 40 stages. The water vapour is cooled to produce the
desalinated water on tubes of heat exchangers within each stage. The cooling effect is
facilitated by the incoming feed water and this has the benefit of also reducing the heat
required to increase the temperature of this feed water entering the brine heater. The top
feed temperatures of the process is normally between 90 120 C. Temperatures above
120 C can increase the efficiency of the plant, but can also lead to scaling and corrosion
of the metal surfaces.
Multi Stage Flash Distillation Process

Source: http://www.unep.or.jp/ietc/Publications/TechPublications/TechPub-

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49

The costs associated with this type of distillation process is heavily dependent on the
thermal energy consumed in heating up the feed water, the electrical energy for other
mechanical functions and the technical specifications and size of the system. To produce
one cubic metre of potable water 12-25 kWh are needed. If the thermal energy can be
recovered from the cooling stream from a power plant or if heat from the sun can be
harnessed for the process, the costs can be dramatically decreased.
A drawback of MSFD and other thermal distillation technologies is the discharge of
corrosion products including: copper, nickel, iron, chromium, zinc and other heavy metals,
depending on the alloys used in the physical structures of the plant.

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THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Appendix 3
Multi Effect Distillation (MED)
Multi Effect Distillation
This type of distillation utilizes thermal technology. The evaporation processes is based on
the cycle of latent heat when generating steam, usually used in combination with power
stations. Each effect is a chamber where feed water is passed through at successively
lower pressures. As the pressure increases, the temperature required to boil the water is
decreased, so that the heat from one effect, can be used to heat the water in the next
effect, which has a higher pressure. The performance ratio increases with the number of
effects in the system. Heat exchanger tubes are found in each effect where the vaporized
water is condensed. The MED plants work at a lower temperature (70C) compared to as
MSFD plants (90C- 120C).
Multiple Effect Distillation Process

Source: http://cape.uwaterloo.ca/che100projects/sea/med.html

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51

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THE USE OF DESALINATION PLANTS IN THE CARIBBEAN - 2006

Appendix 4
Vapor Compression Distillation (VCD)
Vapor Compression Distillation
This method of thermal desalination is often used with MED or MSFD, but can be used on
its own. It utilizes compressed vapor, as the name suggests, rather than heat exchange
from steam produced in a boiler, for the evaporation of the feed water. The feed water is
present in thin films on the inside of tubes in the evaporation chamber and the heat from
the condensation of the compressed water vapor is used to cause evaporation of the feed
water.
Vapor Compression Distillation Process

Source: http://cape.uwaterloo.ca/che100projects/sea/med.html

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