Solving the Caribbean Water Problem
By Keith White
As the drought within the Caribbean wears on, countries in the region face great risk, as their tourism-based economies rely heavily on clean, sustainable water sources – and that doesn’t even begin to address the challenge of providing clean water to sustain agricultural initiatives or maintain the health of their own people.
Drought warnings issued by the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) in February were supposed to only last through the end of March, with a worst case scenario leaving some Caribbean countries water scarce through the end of the region’s dry season, which ended May 31. Yet the Caribbean continues to struggle as water remains limited, with many depending on the upcoming hurricane season to bring rain and relief to what some have called the worst drought in years.
With as many as 25M visitors descending on the region annually, having clean water sources for guests for consumption and bathing is crucial to customer service in the bustling tourism industry, one of the Caribbean’s greatest economic sectors, bringing in $49B in 2013.
Last year, many large hotels in Puerto Rico were restricting water usage by up to 50% in order to keep supplies at levels adequate for service. One hotel in St Lucia went as far as to turn off water in hotel rooms during the day, leaving guests without resources to bathe – not the greatest way to leave an impression and keep people coming back.
While no longer a major economical contributor, the region’s agriculture sector remains steadfastly important as it contributes greatly to domestic food supply while also providing job opportunities. Farmers in the Caribbean last year lost more than $1M in crops – including coconuts, cashews, rice, beans, and citrus fruits – as well tens of thousands of dollars in livestock. The drought has left farmers without a sustainable water source, ravaging crops and leaving citizens of the Caribbean on the precipice of a food crisis as well.
Technology fills conservation’s void
Government officials around the globe have implemented strict water conservation guidelines but it’s increasingly apparent that those efforts will fall short. Resources must be put toward commercialized technologies that can provide immediate relief and bring clean, consumable water to those in the Caribbean and across the globe. There is existing technology – like atmospheric water generation – that can positively impact water scarcity in just days, while also providing a sustainable source for the long term.
Atmospheric water generation extracts the water directly from water vapor that exists in the air we breathe, transforming humidity into an abundant source of clean water. Using a refrigeration-based process, moist air is passed over a cold surface, which condenses the moisture into droplets that are captured, filtered, sterilized, and stored for use.
Water can be produced using 100 percent outside air, in areas with humidity levels as low as 40 percent – ideal for the Caribbean climate. Most systems run on simple electricity, and only need modest maintenance consisting of filter changes and general cleaning, resulting in a simple “plug-and-play” water generator that for the most part operates and maintains itself.
Water is the world’s most abundant resource – 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in it – but it’s not always readily available when and where it’s needed most. The Caribbean islands are surrounded by water, yet the worst drought in years persists. By relying on technology, the impact of the drought in the Caribbean can be lessened, and its people can continue to live healthy lives.
Keith White is the founder and CEO of Ambient Water, an atmospheric water generation technology company providing solutions that produce water from the humidity in the air. Its flagship systems include the Ambient Water 400. AWG units built on the AW 400 platform are capable of producing anywhere from 400 gallons per day, as is the case with the AW 400, to several thousand gallons per day from larger units.