Making waves on World Water Day

The content originally appeared on: The BVI Beacon

Pointing from the shores of Paraquita Bay to the nearby water plant, then all the way to the top of Sabbath Hill, Kevon Smith showed the journey of how saltwater goes from undrinkable to potable.

Mr. Smith, lead operator and chemical engineer at the Seven Seas Water plant, led tours for 25 students from the Virgin Islands School of Technical Studies of the desalination plant at Paraquita Bay on March 22 and taught them what it takes to provide clean water to the whole territory. Staff highlighted the many different related career paths students may pursue, especially in fields known as STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The company was established in the United States VI in 1996 and expanded throughout the Caribbean and South America in the early 2000s. Then in 2015, Seven Seas Water acquired the plant in Paraquita Bay from Biwater.

Students toured the plant on March 22 in celebration of World Water Day. Above, students sample some of the water processed directly by the plant. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

‘Recharging’ groundwater

Managing Director Noni Georges noted that this facility is the largest of three on Tortola, responsible for providing almost 100 percent of water coming out of the tap.

“This allows our groundwater resources to recharge,” she said. “We have to ensure that we protect them from pollution so that they’re available in case of emergency.”

This year’s World Water Day, the same day as the tour, celebrated the value of groundwater.

Ms. Georges said staff at the plant were glad to welcome students and open their eyes to new opportunities.

“We all need water to live, and water technology is one of those areas in science, technology, engineering and maths that we’re hoping you will learn about and see how it could be applied here,” she said.

Mr. Smith explained how the plant utilises reverse osmosis to purify seawater and make it safe to drink.

Water is forcefully pushed through a semipermeable membrane to remove any contaminants and minerals including salt. Reverse osmosis uses high-pressure pumps to push the water against a gradient.

Mr. Smith led the group from the building where salt water comes in and then throughout the rest of the facility, pausing to point out the membranes that purify the water. Long rows of piping housed the various devices used to filter the water.

Finally, fresh water is pumped up and out of the bay to Sabbath Hill, where government services take over distribution to the rest of the island. Given that the main by-product is simply saltwater, staff at the plant check its safety then send it right back to the ocean.

Careers

Throughout the tour, Mr. Smith paused often to explain to students the different types of careers they could pursue in the field, including engineers to maintain the machinery, chemists to test the water for safety and determine what minerals need to be added back to potable water, and practising law in water rights.

Alyssa Butler, a 12th grader at VISTS, said she found it most interesting to understand how the salt was removed, especially considering they were learning about the movement of high- and low-concentration solutions in school. She said it was impressive learning how the plant deals with such a high volume of water every day to supply the island.

Ms. Butler said she is considering a future in law and appreciated having opportunities to tour different workplaces.

After the tour, Mr. Smith said especially given his background as a teacher, he enjoyed sharing the facility with students that day and appreciated their inquisitiveness.