Water Resources Management in Grand Turk - Part 2

Dec. 28, 2000
Current Situations and Recommendations

About the author: Dr. Fernando Pérez Monteagudo is a full professor of hydraulic engineering in the Center for Hydraulic Research of the Higher Polytechnic Institute, "José A. Echeverría," Havana, Cuba. Eng. María Fernandez Miquel is a United Nations Volunteer working as the water engineer in the Public Works Department, Grand Turk, Turk and Caicos Islands.


Editor’s Note: The first part of this article traced water resources development, its quality and the demand in Grand Turk. It appeared in the March issue.

The first priority of any water management policy is to ensure that the population has an adequate and safe water supply for basic needs and that water is free from harmful concentrations of chemical, bacteriological and biological substances. Because of the limited quantities of reliable water resources on most small islands, fresh water is vulnerable to various contaminants and to competition among users. Therefore, the coordination of water resources development proposals with the other sectors of an island’s economic and social structure is needed. In particular, it is necessary that water supply and sanitation be seen as complementary developments. The public health of a community is strongly influenced by the level of both water supply and sanitation facilities. A safe water supply and an adequate sanitation system are necessary prerequisites for good public health. To allow the expansion of a public utility into a wider management framework, the guidance of a water resources board with representatives of health, public works and other government departments may be helpful.

Fortunately, Turk and Caicos Islands Government (TCIG) established the Water and Sewerage Ordinance in 1994. This ordinance founded a Water and Sewerage Board with representatives of government, public works, health, planning, environment and coastal resources and economic authorities. This representation allows the evaluation of all proposals submitted to the Board in a comprehensive framework. The Board also provides such advice as the minister may require to enable the government to lay down a national policy for water and sewerage.

The first priority of the Board should be to devise the national policy for water and sewerage, taking into account the similarities and differences in this field among the different islands comprising Turk and Caicos Islands. The conception of the policy and the variety of operative and conceptual coordination among the different agencies may require the work of a full time advisor to support the Board in complying with its responsibility.

Water management should distinguish between the central, village and individual household level. At the village level water management may be partially entrusted to an individual or group of individuals (as may be the case of the other Turk islands that are not under the permanent surveillance of Public Works Department). At the individual household level, there often is a range of water management issues including maintenance of rainwater tanks and associated catchment areas that should be monitored and supported by the water agency or utility.

The conservation and protection of existing freshwater resources are particularly important in island settings. Conservation of water cannot be achieved without considering the social and cultural habits of the people. Therefore, it is necessary that the populations, together with basic concepts of health and hygiene assimilate the concept of water conservation.

Data Collection and Interpretation

The basis of Water Resources Management is a reliable set of data of the different components of the hydrological cycle.

Meteorological data: Rainfall and evaporation are the fundamental components of the hydrological cycle that have a profound influence on available water resources for small islands.

In Grand Turk, the network of rain gauges is insufficient and the data collected is not processed regularly. However, good records were kept from 1908 to 1973 that allowed an estimate of the average rainfall in Grand Turk at 685 mm per year. Data of evapotranspiration are not collected. One of the priorities of water resources management for the island should be the establishment and management of a network suited to its size, topography and vegetal cover. This also would allow a more precise dimensioning of the necessary urban drainage facilities for Grand Turk, as evidenced by the recent floods associated with the tropical storm Dennis in August 1999.

Surface and groundwater data: As neither surface water nor groundwater is used as a source of fresh water in Grand Turk, these data are not monitored. If groundwater was used, it would require careful and detailed monitoring.

Water quality monitoring: Water quality monitoring is insufficient in Grand Turk. Drinking water should satisfy recognized standards for physical, chemical, biological and radiological water quality. In most cases, the WHO guidelines for drinking-water quality will be appropriate for small island water supplies. However, the guidelines for saline content may be too stringent (250 mg/L). It may be possible to accept values up to 600 mg/L for small island conditions.1

The WHO guidelines also may help to devise a plan for surveillance, control and inspection, determine methods for collection and testing, produce preventive and remedial measures and develop ways for community education and involvement.

An essential part of water quality monitoring on small islands is a laboratory properly equipped to carry out the necessary physical, chemical and microbiological tests. The public health’s facilities could be used in a first stage, but as soon as possible it is recommended to acquire the minimum set of equipment to avoid inevitable conflicts of interests.

Water Legislation

The legislation related to water resources and supply systems for island countries ranges from very rudimentary to very detailed. Fortunately, TCIG established the Water and Sewerage Ordinance.

However, its enforcement has been difficult as is the case for many other small islands countries1 as a result of inadequate monitoring and insufficient staff. Before analyzing its suitability, effort must be directed toward its application.

Demand Management

On small islands water demand management is of paramount importance due to the scarcity of freshwater resources. In order to reduce demand for and waste of potable water, a number of measures can be introduced, including

• Use of non-potable water for some applications,

• Restrictions on water supply, and interrupted supplies at certain times, and

• Effective operation and maintenance, including leak detection and repair.

Operation and maintenance support for small island water supply systems often is very inadequate. By necessity, in Grand Turk water supply authorities operate at the "crisis management" level.

Adequate training programs6 are needed by the operators to acquire basic skills for understanding the system. Keep in mind that a small crew of operators is in charge of the operation and maintenance of the system including RO plants.

Since the existing main line was poorly placed in very shallow trenches, occasional breaks do occur. These breaks may result in a considerable loss of water with its negative consequences. In the geological conditions of Grand Turk, some leaks may be very difficult to detect because the water infiltrates.

The early stage of development is the best time to create the proper conditions for an adequate operation and maintenance program. The O&M manuals should be written with an emphasis on preventive maintenance. The layout of the entire piping system must be included, preferably with a Geographical Information System (GIS). On Grand Turk, this system is being developed by the Land and Survey Department.

The necessary equipment for flow and pressure measurements must be purchased and installed, including the pipe and leak detection equipment suited to the materials used. A phased approach might be necessary if funds are limited, but there are some aspects that should be included in the first stages.

Consumer education regarding rational use and conservation. An educational campaign should be devised and implemented considering not only the support that the educational system must give, but also the media. This campaign should be coordinated with public health authorities.

Regulations for the use of water-saving appliances. In Grand Turk, water saving appliances are not used. Their use should be required for all new buildings and encouraged in the existing ones. These practices also could be supported by an adequate water pricing system and by the educational campaign. These conservation practices should apply even to the salt water toilets due to the costs associated with this water supply. Some simple methods such as putting a brick or two in the toilet flush tanks should be encouraged immediately.

Water Pricing and Costs

For a water supply system to be sustainable, values and costs should balance each other. Full cost must equal the sustainable value in use. The setting of appropriate water supply tariffs will help ensure a reliable and high level of service. Pricing can serve as an important instrument of policy to support the water management objectives and allocate the scarce water resources in Grand Turk efficiently.

Generating revenue and improving efficiency in water uses are the primary goals of a water pricing system. Pricing also may be used to promote distributional equity.

In Grand Turk, although the budget and expenses are registered, a reliable estimate of the costs of producing water is not yet available. Some rough estimates put the costs at 1.40 USD per cubic meter (about 0.0053 USD per gallon), but in these costs the amortization charges are not included. In Grand Turk, a utility computerized billing system was purchased for automatically printing the bills monthly and is being implemented.

While a tariff system exists, it should be revised once the real cost and value of water in Grand Turk is established. The current tariffs are 0.01 USD per gallon for population in standpoints (2.64 USD per cubic meter); 0.03 USD per gallon (7.92 USD per cubic meter) for the government offices, cistern trucks and domestic or commercial users connected to the pipeline. The cistern truck vendors charge around 0.05 USD per gallon (13.2 USD per cubic meter). However, since many of the household connections are still being installed, the revenues are less than expectations.

One of the first priorities in Grand Turk must be to determine all the components of the costs and values of water according to the most advanced methodologies.

Manpower Development

The total number of personnel to staff a water utility in a small island depends on the location and complexity of the water facility.

In Grand Turk, nine persons are involved with the fledgling water utility. This would give a rate of about 2 per 1,000 inhabitants, close to the rate of developed countries (1 per 1,000). However, this figure indicates more personnel is necessary, since most developed countries use highly automated systems. While the average in developing countries is about 1 per 300 inhabitants, this figure cannot be viewed as a goal. System development is in its infant stage in Grand Turk, making it possible to achieve a higher efficiency. A guide for assessing the training needs may be found in Dale.

Other Relevant Issues

In order to achieve environmental sustainability, other issues need consideration for water resources management in Grand Turk.

The lack of vegetation is obviously limiting the rainfall levels in Grand Turk. A program to reforest the island should be implemented in coordination with the Natural Resources and Environment authorities. The most appropriate species must be considered. For example, groundwater recharge is reduced when there are a large number of coconut trees, as is the case on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The salinas, being water bodies subjected to contamination, influenced by urban drainage and connected with the coastal waters should be considered as a potential source of freshwater. Stanley Associates Engineering, Ltd. wisely suggested the use of the salinas for a solar distillation system that also combined rainfall collection. The low energy cost of such a system and the fact that the suitable areas (salinas) are available makes the building of a pilot plant an attractive idea.

If the number of hotels is increased, sanitation solutions must be carefully designed to preserve the purity of the coastal waters.

Finally, the flow of international financial support and cooperation in water related matters must be studied to obtain the necessary help for the challenging future in water resources management in Grand Turk. International and regional networks such as the ones established and encouraged by the Global Water Partnership could be an interesting alternative for the Turk and Caicos Government to examine in this field.


The analysis of the current state of water management in Grand Turk demonstrates that there is a challenging future for the government and all the agencies involved.

The recommendations derived throughout this article must be summarized according to priority criteria. All are considered important, but the lack of resources forces the establishment of an order for its implementation.

Priority 1

• Demand and water costs-values studies. Adjustments of tariffs if necessary.

• Maintenance of the roof and ground catchments of the system.

• Treatment of rainwater.

• Measures for meeting drinking water standards.

• Water quality-monitoring network, including laboratory facilities.

• National policy for water and sewerage.

• Application of the Water and Sewerage Ordinance.

• Continue the enhancement of the distribution system and the household connections. Write the operation and maintenance manuals. System’s relevant information for GIS.

Regulations about the use of salt water, gray water and water saving appliances.

• Study of the airport runway to preserve areas.

• Increase the reliability and efficiency of the operation of the RO plants. Study of means for reducing their energy consumption.

Priority 2

• Networks for international cooperation in water management.

• Studies about the morbidity of water borne diseases.

• Network for rainwater and evapotranspiration data collection.

• Purchase of the equipment for flow and pressure measurements in the network.

• Manpower development program.

• Reforestation and salinas management programs including solar distillation.

Priority 3

• Assessment of groundwater resources.

• Purchase of equipment for leak and pipe detection.

About the authors: