What drought? The rains are here

Diagram: Typical human response to the drought cycle
Diagram: Typical response to the drought cycle

It's happening again. Barely into the June we've already forgotten the dry season, the drought scorched the earth, the empty Hillsborough Dam, the panic that pushed WASA to look for more water from the long-suffering artesian basins. It seems we've also forgotten water rationing, the system that barely covered basic needs much less our business requirements.
It should go without saying that Tobago should use this coming rainy season to conserve as much water as possible, just as it couldn't hurt if we try to understand that our common daily usage has risen to a point so high, rainfall and recharge in all likelihood won't cater for the next dry season. Further, we need to compound that reality, harsh as it is, with the even grimmer understanding that the watersheds are being destroyed without thought care nor compunction even as the climate itself gets hotter. The solution to Tobago's water woes is not going to be desalination - as is being touted. Desalination plants simply aren't sustainable (they are in fact complex to maintain and expensive to run). What's even worse is 'desal' as an idea, merely supports a pattern of unregulated usage - users are prone to deduce that the sea can be converted to freshwater for their comfort. It also indirectly sponsors hillside or watershed compromise by fostering the perception that technical or manmade solutions are feasible alternatives. This is ironic, in that Tobago has the first site in the world which legally provides for water security - and by extension plant and animal conservation.

sign at the eastern - or Roxborough side of the Main Ridge forest
Image: Sign at the eastern - or Roxborough side of the Main Ridge forest

According to the record the Main Ridge Forest Reserve was established on April 1776 by an ordinance which states in part, that the reserve is "for the purpose of attracting frequent showers of rain upon which the fertility of lands in these climates doth entirely depend." The passage of that law is attributable to Soame Jenyns, a British MP whose main responsibilities at the time were for trade and plantations with the colonies. It seems Soames was influenced by the ideas of the English scientist Stephen Hales, who was part of a fledgling movement correlating the presence of trees to rainwater. Given this Rainforest Reserve history, Tobago arguably has a responsibility to show Trinidad as well as the other islands to the north that rainwater needs to be respected, cultivated and conserved. Further, given the size of its population - almost 60,000 including transients, it has a mandate perhaps more pressing; to ensure a proper water supply over both dry and wet seasons and for perpetuity. Desalination obviously, does not factor as a viable option given its cost in dollars or to the environment. Nor will dependence on the artesian supply suffice - unless the trees are left do their job.

The wetland at the bottom of Tobago's Courland watershed
Image: The wetland at the bottom of Tobago's Courland watershed

To be fair, government has recognised the urgency attending the water supply (as well as the connection between shortage of ground water and a stressed environment). Back in 2012 the Ministry of Environment (and Energy Industries) put into play a series of events that led to the creation of the 'Improving Forests and Marine Protected Areas Project'. While the idea encompasses Climate Change Adaptation by the better management of natural spaces set aside for posterity, it stands to lead to better laws to do with protecting tree cover, reduced or at least manageable traffic on our forested spaces, and possibly a population sensitive to the factors that protect their very own survival.