Water harvesting

Saint Kitts and Nevis look for rainwater harvesting sites to improve access to water.

Most Caribbean islands use groundwater extraction or desalination as their primary source of water supply. Neither option is particularly environmentally friendly, so Saint Kitts and Nevis has recently started a process to re-evaluate the potential of rainwater harvesting and water drainage sites for agriculture to increase the availability of surface water on the islands.

The project is part of the “Addressing the Water-Energy Nexus in Agriculture” process being carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (“FAO”), the Caribbean Bank of Development, the Government of Mexico and the Government of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Launched on 11 October 2022 in the Fahies area of Saint Kitts, the assessment team is carrying out analysis on potential suitable sites for rainwater harvesting to supply the irrigation of crops. With extreme weather events becoming ever more common, rainwater harvesting will improve the island’s availability of foods over a greater period as it will ensure access to water during the drier season, allowing for more efficient crop-scheduling.

“This work is at a very early stage,” explained a researcher on the project, “Nevis has some history of rainwater harvesting but it’s never really been done on St Kitts. Rainwater harvesting will not replace desalination or the government supply of water for domestic consumption but it could make our agriculture more sustainable which would be a big win for the country and the environment.”

“Rainwater harvesting will not replace desalination or the government supply of water for domestic consumption but it could make our agriculture more sustainable.”

Researcher, Government of St Kitts and Nevis

Rainwater harvesting is used for domestic consumption by some off-grid inhabitants of the islands but not beyond this. Across the Caribbean 500,000 partially depend on rainwater harvesting, particularly in Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas and both the US and British Virgin Islands. A public official on St Kitts commented, “For domestic consumers it’s a simple case of economics – they won’t invest in rainwater harvesting infrastructure when they can get cheap and reliable water supply from the government.”

However, according to the Green Climate Fund, a UN supported fund to finance project to counter climate change in developing countries, Saint Kitts and Nevis will not be able to supply the basic water needs for its population in 15 years. The primary cause of this water stress is the level of consumption by the agriculture sector, which is why projects like Addressing the Water-Energy Nexus in Agriculture are being set up to use water more efficiently.

“I don’t think rainwater harvesting will ever be a viable option for the larger farms on St Kitts and Nevis, by itself.”

Farmer, St Kitts

One farmer we spoke to was initially dismissive but later curious about the idea, “I don’t think rainwater harvesting will ever be a viable option for the larger farms on St Kitts and Nevis, by itself. It might work for the smaller farms but I just don’t think the volumes and reliability is there for the larger farms. I’ll be interested to see the results of the study though.”

According to the OCED, agriculture irrigation accounts for over 2 quadrillion gallons of water or 70% of total water use worldwide. Anything sensible that can be done to reduce that frightening number must be a good thing!

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