Parched Santiago de Cuba works to make seawater potable

 Parched Santiago de Cuba works to make seawater potableHAVANA, Dec. 6 (Xinhua) Severe, cyclical drought has led the coastal Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba to turn to an abundant though unlikely resource: seawater.

About 20 kilometers inland from Cuba’s second-largest city, home to nearly half a million people, a modern desalination plant is in the trial stages.

Experts are making adjustments to the facility and verifying the quality of the processed water, which is intended to supply some 34,000 residents at a rate of 50 liters per second.

The 20 million U.S. dollar plant, situated on the foothills of eastern Cuba’s Sierra Maestra Mountains, at the entrance to Cabanas Cove, was funded by the Cuban government and built with Italian technology.

The decision to build the plant came after one of five dams that supply the region was nearly depleted, forcing authorities to rely on a hydraulic circuit located west of town to pump water to households. They were only partially successful.

“Due to the severity of the drought, some parts of the city were supplied every 22 days,” says hydraulic engineer Janet Triana of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH), the state-run water utility.

The area has seen below average rainfall for the past 40 years.
Triana, 43, was put in charge of the water supply system in Santiago de Cuba province in May 2013.
The new
plant has four wells 16 to 18 meters deep that take in seawater and put it through a process of filtering and reverse osmosis that lasts barely 20 seconds. The result is water with a high degree of purity.

To preserve the environment, the brine is flushed out to sea some 620 meters away from shore, where the continental shelf begins.

The potable water is pumped to Parada, a water treatment plant 11 kilometers away, where it is mixed with water processed at the site before entering the supply system.

Officials are also taking other measures to counter the drought, says engineer Leti Domenech, who is in charge of foreign cooperation at the INRH.

“Right now, we are carrying out three projects in our province, through international collaboration, to help us tackle the drought,” said Domenech.

Next to the plant, another built with Spanish technology aims to guarantee water for the nearby Antonio Maceo Thermoelectric Plant, which supplies electricity to much of eastern Cuba, including Santiago de Cuba.

The European Union, World Food Program (WFP), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UNICEF are all involved in programs to help residents cope with drought, including building small water treatment plants, providing equipment to measure water flow and quality, or supplying drought-resistant seeds.