The public wells that have been supplying potable water to Utila’s East Harbour have become more and more salinated to the point where they fail international standards for salt content in potable water. According to Mayor Alton Cooper salt water intrusion has deteriorated the water in the municipal wells to the point where it is unfit for drinking or washing.
In 2003 UPCO bought desalination equipment, but failed to deliver on a promise of a desalinated water plant. Utila turned to the Spanish government and its offer to construct a desalination plant with its SETA engineering group. The plant cost around Lps. 60 million and was constructed on Western Path land donated by Lester James.
The Utila desalination plant is far from simple. Two 56 meter deep wells pump salt water to the plant, run it through filter membranes then submit the water to a reverse osmosis treatment. The pure drinking water is placed in a cistern while the unusable, contaminated water is pumped out to sea.
Utila’s new potable water system will not come cheap. A continual expense of paying staff of four to be responsible for maintenance of machines, changing purifying filters and supplying electricity to lift the salty water 56 meters to the surface, could make one liter of Utila’s water cost, bitter not sweet.
Also the long term environmental impact of continually and increasingly dumping salinated water and impurities close to the Utila reef have to be studied more. In the long term, risks to Utila’s marine environment and the potential impact on the tourist industry could far outweigh the benefits.
A less high-tech and less expensive option of reducing Utila’s water demand could be building rain water collection systems, water cisterns and artificial retention ponds. This is a more viable, certainly more cost effective, less energy consumption, and less knowledge dependent solution to stabilizing the deteriorating aquifer
Utila’s mayor is optimistic about the outlook. “Even though this is a project that needs a great initial investment, it is a sustainable solution for Utila,” said Mayor Alton Cooper. The 15 liters a second maximum output of the desalination plant can provide adequate water to up to 10,000 people, a number that Utila’s population is expected to reach in 2032. According to the SETA engineers, Utila’s potable water problems could be solved for the next 25 years.
Utila’s plant is one of 18 water treatment facilities that the Spanish government is funding in Honduras – total costs, Euros 20 million. It is the second, after Municipality of Amapala, location to receive a desalinization plant. Coxen Hole on Roatan is planed to be the next location to receive the water treatment plant with work beginning this fall and Trujillo and Tela stand in line to fallow. [/private]