The passing of a hurricane through the Caribbean islands is a keen reminder of how water can affect our lands and coasts. Hurricane Earl, with winds reaching 145 mph, brought over 1 foot of rain throughout the Lesser Antilles islands, meaning river overflow, large amounts of runoff and sediment discharge. Ironically, while the hurricane made its way through the north of Puerto Rico, the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) held its summer International Specialty Conference and 8th Caribbean Islands Water Resource Congress in Río Grande, Puerto Rico on Aug 30 – Sept 1, 2010. What an opportune moment to address issues regarding water resources in the Caribbean!
The conference consisted of 17 discussion sessions covering topics such as increasing water supply, flooding and stormwater management, water distribution management, hydrometeorology, groundwater quality management, the application of current modeling systems among others. One of the main focuses of the meeting was the impact of climate change on our water resources, particularly its sustainability and variability.
During the conference, we asked a handful of experts (n=8) to answer a few questions regarding the short- and long-term studies needed to improve watershed management and concerning tropical hydrology in the Caribbean. Ecosystem-based studies, developing sustainable resource use, watershed modeling and coastal impacts from development were the most frequently selected projects needed in less than 5 years. Long-term studies varied greatly, from the effects of animal waste on adjacent water bodies to the data needed on groundwater/hydrologic discharge to the coast. Insufficiently trained/skilled personnel, failure to apply research information to management and the lack of ecosystem-based (based on ecological factors) management were the obstacles most frequently identified. More than half of those who answered stated over 11 years of experience in their field.
Short-term research needs (graph bars depict number of times selected)
Obstacles for better management and conservation (graph bars depict number of times selected)
A general comment made by most of the presenters was the lack of data needed to make watershed modeling more accurate. One example is the rather large margin of error in models for predicting climate change, as stated by a researcher at Florida International University (Miami, Florida) who studied water resource variability in Río Grande and Plata River Basins in Puerto Rico. Another interesting topic was the economics of water resources, how it is valued, and the link between energy and water as a resource.
For more information about this conference, please visit the AWRA website