IWRM Demonstration Project in La Digue

Map of La Digue A multi-pronged approach towards protecting the integrity of the groundwater aquifer on La Digue – one of the most popular tourist destinations in Seychelles – will help the people of the island to balance the economic benefits generated by tourism with the need to conserve precious water resources.

La Digue is the third largest inhabited island in Seychelles. Situated about 60 km from the island of Mahé, the administrative centre of Seychelles, La Digue covers an area of 14km2 and has a resident population of 2 761 people. The island is known for its relaxed way of life and – as in other parts of Seychelles – tourism is the main economic activity; most islanders are engaged in tourism-related activities such as hotel work, bicycle hire, the manufacture and sale of handicrafts, fishing trips and leisure boat excursions. La Digue has the capacity to accommodate 500 people in hotels and facilities for 200 day-trippers.

The water supply system on La Digue consists of a single treatment plant that receives water from five fast flowing rivers; groundwater that is drawn from the aquifer via boreholes and wells; and a desalination plant that accommodates a 30% shortfall in supply, most notably during the dry season, from May to September. The scarcity of fresh water resources is compounded by strongly growing demand for water and the fact that the groundwater aquifer is known
to be polluted. Groundwater pollution has been caused by residential developments and there is a serious risk that, if pollution goes unchecked, the resource might become unfit for human consumption and impact negatively on islanders’ quality of life.

And, if nothing is done over the next decade to manage freshwater yields, there is a danger that water shortages will be experienced in both the wet and dry seasons.

A partnership between the Global Environment Facility, United Nations Development Programme, the Seychelles Public Utilities Corporation (PUC), La Digue Development Board and the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Transport, has been established to implement an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) demonstration project on La Digue with the idea of holistically addressing some of these concerns. The objective of the project is the sustainable exploitation and protection of La Digue island water resources using IWRM approaches. Already in its second year of implementation, the IWRM demonstration project team is engaged in wide range of activities that are organised around two main themes: reducing demand for potable water and preserving the quality of groundwater resources.

Reducing demand for water requires a sustained and multi-pronged approach. Over the past three decades, La Digue islanders have become increasingly dependent on piped water and, although they may be aware of the tenuous nature of the fresh water supply, changing water use patterns can be tricky. It is also very difficult to encourage tourists to use water sparingly when they are on holiday and have high expectations of their accommodation.

The IWRM project team is using a number of strategies, including local media, stakeholder meetings and educational outings for local schools to raise La Digue islanders’ awareness of the need to reduce demand for potable water and protect the aquifer from overuse and pollution. An upward adjustment in water tariffs is expected to drive this message home, sending a clear message to islanders that water is not a free commodity and should be used sparingly. (There are special tariffs in place for economically disadvantaged consumers.)

Ever since improvements were made to the water distribution network on La Digue in the early 1980s, islanders have been less reliant on alternative sources of freshwater. Increased affluence has also led to the more widespread use of modern appliances, and an associated increase in demand for piped water. But rainwater is free and one way to overcome the growing demand for piped water is to encourage islanders and hoteliers to erect and use rainwater tanks. With this in mind, a range of water storage tanks has been imported to La Digue Island and the IWRM project team is actively promoting their use to islanders. The idea is to reduce dependence on piped water for uses such as gardening, toilet flushing and laundry.

Watch the videos produced about the demo project:

The island’s residents, and especially hotel owners, are being encouraged to look for alternative sources of fresh water. For example, the project is encouraging and promoting the use of rainwater and several individuals have embraced this idea. Hotels are also being encouraged to install and utilise rainwater tanks; the idea is to reduce dependence on piped water for uses such as gardening, toilet flushing and laundry. Both households and hotels stand to make substantial savings on their utilities bills by harvesting rainwater. And, since sustainable water use is one of the eight key themes of the prestigious Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Label – an initiative of the Seychelles Tourism Board that rewards hotels for integrating environmentally sustainable practices into their business operations – hotels also stand to enhance their reputations by erecting the tanks and conduits required to harvest and use rainwater.

The IWRM demonstration project team is also promoting the practice of re-using wastewater for landscaping purposes in the tourism sector and the PUC has launched a monitoring programme that will identify and rectify leaks in the water distribution network. Although the network is relatively new, an unacceptable volume of water is not accounted for and presumed lost as a result of pipeline leakage.

Preserving the quality of groundwater is the second major focus of the IWRM demonstration project on La Digue. Groundwater monitoring has revealed that the aquifer is increasingly at risk from residential development in the plateau area, uncontrolled dumping of wastes in open water bodies and from the intrusion of seawater, especially during high tides.

A number of activities are underway to address these problems. For instance, the landfill site on La Digue is being substantially upgraded and reorganised so that scrap metal is collected and recycled; and used batteries (from boats, cars and golf/club cars) are collected and properly stored before being shipped off the island. The net result is a reduction in the leachate generated by the landfill. Improvements are also being made to the management of this leachate: the equipment used for collecting and treating leachate is being renovated and a reed-bed is being constructed to filter the water that runs out of the landfill. Dredging and desilting activities have also taken place in order to protect wetlands and insure that the water from heavy rainfalls does not stagnate in certain part of the island.

Thanks to the IWRM demonstration project, measures are in place to protect the valuable freshwater resources on La Digue and improved understanding and awareness of water conservation will lead to better and more integrated management of water across all sectors. As a result, the risks posed to ground water resources will be greatly reduced, with the residents of La Digue benefitting from cleaner, better tasting water from their precious groundwater aquifer.