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Water companies expand to serve growing San Pedro

They say that in the next century water will be more precious than oil. And while that's good news for Belize with our abundant rivers, not all Belizeans have ready access to the precious liquid. News Five's Kendra Griffith has more.

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
San Pedro, Ambergris is home to over eight thousand residents and is one of Belize's most popular tourist destinations. But while locals and visitors can swim, dive, and fish the Caribbean Sea, what they can't do is drink it.

Alvan Haynes, C.E.O., Belize Water Services
"San Pedro is unique because it's the only place we can't get any fresh water to start with as a raw product. Everywhere else there is water available from wells or from a river."

So where do San Pedranos get their water? In the past they depended on rainwater vats for drinking and cooking and sometimes brackish wells for washing and bathing. But all that changed in 1996 when government brought in a company to turn sea water into fresh by a process called reverse osmosis.

Since 2000, Consolidate Water Belize Limited has been the company responsible for the desalinization plant on Ambergris Caye. Wade Van Doren is their General Manager.

Wade Van Doren, General Manager, Consolidated Water
"We produce water that exceeds World Health Organization drinking water standards and sell it in bulk to Belize Water Services who distributes it in San Pedro."

There are four operators who keep the plant running twenty-four hours a day. The process begins when salt water is pumped from two wells located forty feet below ground. Plant foreman Peter Caliz gave us a tour of the facility.

Peter Caliz, Plant Foreman
"At this point we have eight hundred gallons of water coming in, that's from the combined total of both well pumps. We have one on the north side and one over on the south side. ... After it enters that pipe over there, it comes in here. Here they go through the filter system. ... It removes all the solids basically, all the solid particles. That's what these do."

"After it leaves this stage it goes into these pumps here. ... These are our Afton pumps. These pumps take the feed water, which is about approximately forty PSI and takes it up to about six hundred PSI."

The high pressure is a necessary step to remove the salt from the water.

Peter Caliz
"It then comes to this ERP, Energy Recovery Pump, this little thing that you see here. That's the thing that takes up the pressure from six hundred PSI to about nine hundred and fifty PSI, which is our normal working pressure for this system. The water then enters through this side, which is our feed side."

By the time the water reaches the other end of the pipe, internal cylinders called membranes have already separated the brine from the soon-to-be-drinkable water. The reject water is returned to the earth one hundred and twenty-five feet below the surface, while the product water goes on to chemical treatment. First up is sulphuric acid.

Peter Caliz
"What that does, it helps to eliminate some of the sulphur, that rotten egg smell that is inside the water that comes out the well."

"When the product water comes from out that room that we were in just it goes into these de-gas tower. This de-gas also helps with the elimination of the hydrogen sulphide."

After de-gassing, the water is treated with chlorine to remove bacteria and can now be consumed. It is stored in a million-gallon tank and is then ready for their sole customer, Belize Water Services.

Alvan Haynes
"The existing contract goes with Consolidated Water and Belize Water Services until 2026 where they produce and we buy from them and distribute."

On average, Consolidated Water produces four hundred and ninety thousand gallons of water per day while consumption is pegged at around four hundred and thirty-nine thousand. But salt-free water doesn't come cheap for B.W.S. or its two thousand customers on the island.

Alvan Haynes
"It's higher because obviously the technology which goes into the production makes it more expensive. I can't give you the full rate, but I think it's about twenty-two dollars per thousand gallons, whereas elsewhere it's about nine dollars and something cents."

And while the companies are currently able to meet the needs of residents in town, persons on North Ambergris Caye are still living in the pre-1996 era as the B.W.S. system does not extend that far.

Kendra Griffith"
"What do the people of the north side do for water?

Wade Van Doren
"Presently they use catchments; some of them haul water up by boats, shallows wells. It's kind of a problem. There are some small point-of-use R.O. systems up there that the various resorts have, but there is a huge need for reliable water."

Alvan Haynes
"As you are aware, the north has been separated from the south. Recently a bridge has been built which makes transportation and placement of pipes to carry the water possible."

With bridge financing from Consolidated Water, B.W.S. has embarked on a project to provide potable water to the area. And it's not a moment too soon as a number of hotels and condominiums are about to open their doors.

Alvan Haynes
"We're going to start putting distribution pipes there. There is some minimal water where individuals have run small pipes just to connect a local community, but we're going to put larger mains and we're going to progress all the way north. It's going to take a number of years to reach all the way, but initially we're looking at covering the nearer areas and then progressing."

"The demand study is a little bit difficult. It's based on the existing resorts and condominiums, the ones in progress and the ones that are planned for the future. But we see the north will probably have more people than the south currently has at certain points in time, so the demand may well double or even more in the next five years."

Wade Van Doren
"We want to continue to grow and supply the ever increasing need for water here in San Pedro."

Consolidated Water will supply that increasing need by raising their daily output in the coming months to about five hundred and fifty thousand gallons. And that's just the beginning.

Wade Van Doren
"We are looking at areas up there that we are considering for building an additional plant up to the north. We're also looking at bringing in some more mobility as far as machineries down here to produce more water at this facility to handle the ever increasing demand with the current town of San Pedro."

With the added machinery, C.W.B.L.'s output is expected to increase to about seven hundred thousand gallons per day. Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

In addition to its water distribution, B.W.S. also operates the town's sewerage system.

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