Feature Story

Wondrous Watersheds: Demonstrating Watershed Management Innovations

December 1, 2015

St. Johns port, Antigua
Thirteen Caribbean nations partnered with the GEF, UNDP and UNEP to implement an integrated approach to the management of watersheds and coastal areas on a sustainable basis.

The GEF/UNDP/UNEP Integrating Watershed and Coastal Areas Management in Small Island Developing States of the Caribbean (IWCAM) Project was a collaboration between 13 Caribbean nations: Antigua & Barbuda; The Bahamas; Barbados; Cuba; Grenada; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Haiti; Jamaica; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; and Trinidad and Tobago. This project, funded by the GEF, implemented by UNEP and UNDP, and executed by UNEP’s Caribbean Regional Coordinating Unit, the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute and United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), strengthened national commitments and capacities to implement an integrated approach to the management of watersheds and coastal areas on a sustainable basis.

A unique element of IWCAM was that it provided a regional focus to the management of shared water resources through nine innovative demonstration projects in eight of the thirteen participating countries, smaller-scale activities in all of the participating countries, and a range of regional capacity building initiatives. Each demonstration project promoted practical approaches to integrated watershed and coastal areas management including water resource management, aquifer protection, wastewater treatment, rainwater harvesting, and sustainable land use. The demonstration projects were designed to capture and exchange knowledge and best practices to facilitate replication elsewhere. Recognizing the constraints to developing and implementing integrated and inter-sectoral management, the projects emphasized innovative cross-sectorial management approaches, institutional/ infrastructure realignment and policy reforms, the sharing of information, stakeholder participation and coordination, and capacity building in a number of areas, including water quality monitoring, sewage treatment plant management, community-based resource assessment, and improvements in laboratory capacity.

In Jamaica, the demonstration project, located in the Driver’s River Watershed, developed a model Watershed Area Management Mechanism (WAMM), which the National Environmental Planning Agency adopted and replicated for management of other watersheds across the island. Relying on a community-based approach and working in close partnership with national agencies, non-governmental organizations, community groups, and the private sector, NEPA identified and implemented solutions to inappropriate garbage disposal, destructive agricultural practices, unsustainable coastal development, poor sewage treatment infrastructure, and other threats to watershed and coastal environmental integrity and human welfare.

In Tobago, the demonstration project sought to alleviate the causes of environmental degradation in the Courland Watershed, the island’s most important water catchment area, and the Buccoo Reef, one of Tobago’s biggest tourist attractions and coastal buffers. Major project activities included reforestation and wildfire suppression awareness in the Courland watershed; diversion of surface drains into a constructed artificial wetland; upgrading of the land use plan in the targeted part of the watershed; establishing a sustainable and effective data-collection program; and implementing a public awareness and sensitization campaign. Each year the newly constructed artificial wetland treats approximately 4,500 m3 of wastewater coming from a fish processing plant located in a local village that lies adjacent to the Buccoo Reef. Other major achievements were the introduction of GIS mapping techniques to identify potential areas of pollution and the introduction of data collection and databases as major inputs in long-term, sustainable land use planning.

In Antigua & Barbuda, the demonstration project addressed inadequate sewage and wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure in the town of St. John’s. This is a common problem in many of the larger towns in Caribbean SIDS. Twenty households in Antigua, along with a large supermarket and resort hotel, were equipped with effective sewerage connections to divert domestic and commercial sewage from a natural and ecologically sensitive salt pond into a newly constructed treatment plant. The treated wastewater is now used for irrigation purposes. Best lessons and practices developed through this demonstration project were replicated nationwide and transferred to other Caribbean SIDS.

IWCAM played an important role in the entry into force of the LBS Protocol under the Cartagena Convention by demonstrating the importance and viability of implementing waste water treatment measures. The LBS Protocol commits governments of the Wider Caribbean to make major improvements in wastewater management by introducing innovative and cost effective treatment technologies, improving policy, regulatory and institutional frameworks, and expanding access to affordable financing. Some other key achievements under IWCAM include the establishment of baseline information on levels of pollution at eight demonstration project sites, the initiation of innovative measures aimed at mitigating pollution of water resources, the introduction of, or guidance towards the introduction of new policies on integrated water resources (and coastal area) management in 10 participating countries, and significant stakeholder involvement, including relevant government agencies and local communities.

This story was orginally published in "From Coast to Coast: 20 Years of Transboundary Management of our Shared Oceans" in 2015.