25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE   BY ANGEL NUÑEZ

The Very First Water System


W
ater today is a very valuable commodity because it is expensive. One hundred dollars to five hundred dollars to run a household is pretty expensive. Two thousand to four thousand dollars to run a hotel is still expensive. Do you conserve water or do you use it without even thinking? That depends whether you are paying for it or whether someone else is.

Water in the 1930's, 40's, 50's, 60's and even the 70's was plentiful and cheap. The main source of water was the shallow well. Whenever it rains, water seeps down and forms a layer about ten feet below the surface of the sand. The higher the land, the deeper the water table is. If the land is not high, then the water table forms about 5 feet below the surface. You can practically dig a hole about 150 feet from the shoreline at the beach and get fresh water. Along the back street, it is a bit difficult because there are rotting mangrove roots which give the water a horrible smell or stench.

A well is simply a hole in the ground with drums or barrels placed in the hole to keep it from burying. Wells may also be constructed with concrete bricks or rocks. You need to dig deep enough to get about two feet of water which will rise during high tide or rainy season. When you strike a good vein, water filters into the well as you remove some of the water from inside the drum. A well may be run almost dry and in half an hour it gains back its original level.

Every yard in San Pedro in the 1950's had a well. Some households did not even have a tank or a vat or water reservoir because the well water was so good that it was used for all purposes including to drink. "Mi pozo parece agua lluvia" remarked some villagers. (My well water tastes like rain water) As children in the 1950's, we had a great time at the well after coming from the sea. We poured pail after pail of fresh water over our heads- those were the San Pedro showers. They were fresh and energizing and free. We did not stop bathing at the well until mom hollered at us that it was supper time.

Because it was always wet around the well due to these showers, a few garden herbs grew well around them-cilantro, mint, oregano and small onions called "cebollinas".

Tests on well water into the 1970's revealed that the water was free of bacteria and perfect for human consumption. However, with progress and more and more toilet septic tanks, bacteria has contaminated the water table and it is no longer safe for drinking. In the early 1980's, government constructed a few large wells along the airstrip area and pumped the water into large storage tanks to supply the village. After 1984 with the village becoming a town, more wells were constructed but the water was simply not enough for a growing town. Thus the first desalination plant was built late into the 1980's to give us about forty thousand gallons a day and finally our modern plant at WASA has been in operation for about six years now.

Is it not ironic that Ambergris Caye, surrounded by water, has water as one of its most expensive commodities? And the island is all white coral sand, and sand too is one of the next expensive materials. The ironies of life, eh? Will tell you about why sand became expensive next time.

YOU KNOW YOU ARE AN OLD TIMER SANPEDRANO IF:

You went to the well at least five times a day. Your first visit to the well was to draw out some water to fill up the buckets for the morning washing of face and brushing of teeth. Your second visit to the well was to pull out several pails of water to fill up some drums which mother would use for her laundry and also filled up some containers in the kitchen to be used for drinking and cooking. At midday you went to the well once again to extract some water for the cleaning up and doing of dishes after lunch. Children who went swimming almost on a daily basis also went to the well to take a bucket shower to rinse off. In the evening you went to the well once again to fill up your bucket of well water to take a shower…I mean a bucket bath.

This was at least five daily visits to the well. Don’t take it like going half a mile to the river to do your laundry as is still done in some of the villages around the country of Belize. No, our wells were only a few feet away from the kitchen right in the middle of the yard. We usually used a small one gallon metal container to draw out our water.

It was truly a lot of fun going to the well twenty five years ago. It was not a heavy chore. Indeed it was a time to play and be helpful at the same time. Some of us went to the well even before mom asked us to in order to be in good terms with mom. For example, after filling up some buckets with well water you would say, “Mom, can I go swimming for an hour with my friends?” Got it? Good life twenty five years ago!


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