Belize tap water; is it safe?
While our tap water at the plant is completely potable, there is no guarantee on the state of the pipes running from Consolidated Water to where ever you are. This was no different than downtown Toronto for me and on very hot summer days you could definitely smell a slight funk from the tap water mostly in the kitchen – as a result in our house, we drank bottled.
In San Pedro I use tap water to brush my teeth, cook pasta (something I rarely do 🙂 ) and boil vegetables. If I am planning to use the vegetable water for soup stock I use bottled water. Same goes for cooking rice or quinoa. I do know people that use tap water to make their morning coffee, since I drink mine cold I use bottled 🙂
Way back when we first moved to the island it was a lot more common to have water outages and sometimes for extended periods of time. I got in the habit of practicing the 3 water container tips below. Being in a house with a pool I do not practice the last part of the third tip anymore as our pool has enough flush-able water for a long time should it be needed. When I was not living in a place with a pool I would have 1 gallon water containers stored under all my sinks in preparation for water shortages and hurricane supplies. Click through to see pictures of the lack of water pressure during the 2010 San Pedro Water Shortage and Good Friday Drought, to lean more about the shortage that April. Back then it was very common to loose water altogether or experience extremely low pressure over Easter which is our busiest time of year.
Three water container tips
- Spray bottle large or small very useful for spritzing on hot days and a makeshift shower. Also good to de-wrinkle clothing for travelers, I often pack a small one when traveling and use it as a portable iron.
- One liter bottle: this size bottle makes a great fast single shower when the water is out.
- One gallon jug: this size is great for times when your water goes off and you need to wash your hair. Also makes for great flush-able water containers in the event of a hurricane.
As far as travelers are concerned, the subject of water makes an appearance on the Belize forum of Tripadvisor every so often. Many vacation planners want to know how safe our water is and there is always some good feed back to read about and learn to what degree people will use tap water here.
Three good water related posts with useful information
- In Drinking water and mixed drinks the originator wanted to know if drinking tap water and using ice is safe? That post got slightly heated for opinions. I agree with replies the folks that live here and Banditdogaustin from Austin TX.
- Next post on Food safety. The reader was having a difficult time figuring out what is safe to eat and drink. They had looked at the WHO website which said cook it, peel it, boil it, but still had questions such as, “is pico de gallo safe?”
- In this last this post the writer was staying at the Belize Zoo, San Ignacio, Ambergris Caye and Placencia and wanted to know “Is Belize water safe to drink?” They also wanted to know about the ice cubes.
On my last trip to Placencia I was pleasantly surprised to find out from Laura and Dave who write Pure Placencia blog and own Caribbean Cabanas, that Placencia is one of the few places in the country where tap water is okay to drink. You can find out where else is safe in my post – Drinkable tap water and 3 restaurants in Placencia.
Now onto the technical side of our Ambergris Caye water system
Over the course of time my friend Shirlee and I have come to know plant manager Dee Dillon on a deeper level. He has joined the San Pedro Belize Red Cross first aid training program and had the entire Consolidated staff take the course. Dee takes plant safety seriously and in addition to learning first aid he has a complete well marked first aid kit at the plant. He also comes out often to support us for Red Cross trivia night at Crazy Canucks beach bar. He is also a repeat supporter of the annual Belize Community Conservation Kids for Clean water summer camp.
Aside from being community minded, you can tell by his staffs dedication that he is a good boss and well liked. Dee is a very smart man. He knows the plant mechanics inside and out and keeps a clean well running operation. Below is his thorough description on how our island water plant works.
CWBL Reverse Osmosis Plant Operation
The Reverse Osmosis Plant owned and operated by Consolidated Water Belize Limited (CWBL) in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye is a relatively simple seawater reverse osmosis process. The plant is located about 2 miles south of town central San Pedro. Seawater is extracted from two shallow wells adjacent to the lagoon. Because the wells are shallow and uncased they are under the direct influence of the lagoon water. Natural and man-made changes in the lagoon water quality have a direct impact on the plant’s operation.
The raw seawater is pumped through pre-filters to remove suspended solids 5 microns and larger in size, (a micron is one-millionth of a meter…really, really small). Many/most constituents of seawater, (organic and inorganic), are smaller than this and pass through the pre-filters. The filtered water is then pressurized by two pump systems: diesel driven pumps and high pressure booster pumps, (powered by the waste/brine water flow). The pressurized seawater (about 960 lbs/in.2) is forced through two separate Trains of RO vessels and the “plastic” membranes inside. The membranes have pores about .45 microns in size. These pores are smaller than most of the organic/inorganic constituents of seawater so most salts, minerals etc. are left behind on the brine side of the membranes.
The waste water, (brine) is passed through the pressure boosting pumps and injected back into the lagoon through a deep injection well.
The “de-mineralized” water, or product water, is then passed through some degassifier towers to remove noxious gases, (mostly hydrogen sulfide).
Before degassing, sulfuric acid is injected into the product water to adjust pH, followed by chlorine injection to disinfect the product water. An unusually high chlorine dose is applied at the plant to insure that there is an acceptable residual at the ends of our customer’s distribution system, (normally the customer supplements the chlorine dosage if necessary due to variations within their distribution system. In our case, BWSL has no facility/facilities to do this so we surcharge the chlorine dosage to keep the water safe).
After disinfection the water is pumped: directly to our customer’s storage tank; to CWBL’s storage tank; or a combination of both.
The major operational support activity is the cleaning of the membranes when they become fouled with organic/inorganic compounds. This is an important operational consideration because it requires the removal of 50% of the plants’ capacity, (1 Train must be out of service during the cleaning process, which should last 2-4 days). While pre-filters are disposable, (1-3 months life depending on lagoon water quality), membranes should have up to a 5 year lifespan. Membrane life at CWBL is somewhat shorter than this but 3 years is the expected minimum life. When membranes become too fouled to produce adequate quantity and quality water they are replaced with new membrane elements. Replacement of membrane elements also requires an entire train to be shut down. Needless to say, because the high season demand for water equals or exceeds the plant’s capacity, taking Trains out of service for cleaning cannot be done, (during a 5-6 month time frame), shortening their lifespan.
Operational Support Equipment and Supplies:
In addition to the direct operation of the plant, the following is important operational support information:
Due to the remote location of the RO Plant CWBL keeps a large inventory of capital equipment and spares, along with large stocks of consumable supplies:
Well Pumps and Motors
High Pressure Booster Pumps
RO Membrane elements
Degas Blowers and Motors
Chemical Injection Pumps
Product Water Pumps
Storage Transfer Pumps
Miscellaneous maintenance equipment
Spare parts for all of the above
Barrels of Sulfuric Acid
Barrels of Calcium Hypochlorite (chlorine)
11,000 gal of Diesel Fuel
Membrane Cleaning agents, Sodium Hydroxide (Caustic Soda) and Citric Acid
Information courtesy of Clifford “Dee” Dillon, General Manager of Consolidated Water Belize Limited.