Raising local appreciation for the vital water resources of the Basseterre Valley Aquifer was the focus of a press conference held on Monday, Mar. 15 at Parliamentary Lounge in Government Headquarters. The event was organized By the Global Environmental Facility-Integrating Watershed and Coastal Areas Management (GEF-IWCAM) Project Management Unit. The Project examines water conditions and use in 13 participating Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS): Antigua & Barbuda; the Bahamas; Barbados; Cuba; Grenada; Dominica; the Dominican Republic; Haiti; Jamaica; St. Kitts & Nevis; St. Lucia; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and Trinidad & Tobago. The Basseterre Valley Aquifer, flanked By the Olivees Mountain, Canada Hills and Conaree Hills, is of vital importance to St. Kitts as it provides approximately 2.5 million gallons of water for Basseterre residents – fully 60 percent of the daily consumption requirements. At the Monday press conference, Project Manager Ian Liburd was joined By Dr. Robert Aukerman and Dr. Glenn Haas of Aukerman, Haas and Associates, LLC; Robert Weary, senior policy advisor for the Nature Conservancy; and Cromwell Williams, chief engineer for the Water Services dept. Drs. Aukerman and Haas are professors at Colorado State University. Mr. Liburd opened the conference with a general welcome and introductions. He then proceeded to inform that the GEF-IWCAM Project would finance up to US$530,00 in financing from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with US$217,000 being co-financed By government revenue. An “in-kind” government contribution of US$22 million is also reflected in the project’s budget. In his opening statement, Mr. Williams struck a cautionary tone in regard to the long-term survival of the aquifer. “We are concerned about the safety and sustainability of this natural resource,” he said. “We need to determine what a safe yield is, so that it won’t be exceeded – which would be potentially disastrous.” An increase in groundwater withdrawals from 1999 to 2009 has led to an accelerated decline in the aquifer’s water levels. Also of concern is the risk of contaminants, in the form of fertilizers and other chemicals, entering the aquifer and polluting the natural resource. Dr. Haas outlined plans for the centerpiece of the press conference – a proposed National Park comprising 525 acres of land adjacent to the Kim Collins Highway that was previously occupied By sugar cane plantations. Plenty of feedback from the local community will be sought in order to ensure that the park reflects the culture, history and interests of the Federation. Walking paths, biking trails and exercise stations were some of the discussed features, in addition to the assurance of easy access for all local residents. “The ultimate goal is to make the park part of the fabric of the island,” said Dr. Haas. Part of the park would house the proposed St. Kitts National Botanical Plaza, an education-themed 100×100 yard area that would act as a combination visitor center with meeting rooms, amphitheater for open air concerts, and fun activity area for kids, inclusive of a water spray area. A teahouse and restaurants are also in the plan. In terms of the personnel to staff the proposed park, Dr. Haas said that plans called for 44 individuals, mostly drawn from the local labor pool. Looking to future maintenance of the project, he recommended establishing an associates degree program at a local college that would allow students to focus on protected area study, and provide a defined linkage to the park. The financial aspects of the project were outlined By Mr. Weary, who spoke about the proposed formation of a conservation trust to be responsible for park governance. He estimated that US $150,000 per year would be generated By park proceeds, to be managed By the trust. The Nature Conservancy has pledged over US$20 million towards a regional endowment fund that is projected to total US$40 million, and will be targeted at supporting and managing new and existing national parks and protected areas in the Caribbean region. Roughly US$3 million of those funds have been allocated for St. Kitts and Nevis. In the next step in the project’s evolution, the Water Resource Management Plan and the Park Management Plan submitted By of Aukerman, Haas and Associates are awaiting government cabinet approval.
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