Investing in water — salt and fresh

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  • Precious resource: the island's traditional stepped roofs feed rainwater into holding tanks

    Precious resource: the island's traditional stepped roofs feed rainwater into holding tanks

  • Perfect venue: America's Cup competition on the Great Sound (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    Perfect venue: America's Cup competition on the Great Sound (Photograph by Akil Simmons)


“Water, water everywhere … … nor any drop to drink” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 1798

The world’s population relies on water, both fresh and salt, as a major life source and a conduit to everywhere, even given competition by air and land motor transportation.

Historically, on the fourth most remote spot on earth, Bermuda’s only survival link was by sea. What extraordinary mariners our ancestors became, pushing the limits of human ingenuity in exploration and trade. Innovators and native producers of the fast, famed Bermuda sloops, in the 17th century, Bermudians roved the North Atlantic Quadrangle and beyond in quest of investments in commerce, building an unparalleled sailing reputation that stands to this day.

Last week as we arose — as we do every day — to the sparkling seas, our Bermuda invested again, hosting the America’s Cup festivities (against serious competition). Thousands of spectators on water and land witnessed a stunning display of pure technical and physical power as, in almost sheer silence the America’s Cup yachts flew, carbon-fibre dragonflies skimming the surface of our ever blue-turquoise water.

We are reminded every second in Bermuda of the primeval influence of the sea in our lives. It is part of us, not easily separated from us. It is the salt in our blood; the spray on our faces; the essence of breath in our lungs. We are of the sea, surrounded by it; and the sea is with us, always.

We are also economically focused on our enduring need for reliant fresh water. Bermuda has no natural lakes, rivers, or streams to provide our daily supply of sustainable water.

Water everywhere. Individual body survival analyses always touts these liquidity physiological facts:

• An individual can survive without food for more than three weeks.

• Survival without fresh water, in extreme conditions, may be as short as a few hours to a week.

Not a drop to drink. Conversely, humans cannot drink salt water, even though ironically, salt is one component of electrolyte plasma vital to our body’s physiological functions.

So, we humans must have this basic renewable resource, fresh drinking water.

Bermuda’s early settlers certainly realised the impact of unavailable fresh water. Shallow dug wells were bored through the porous limestone.

Buildings evolved over time into designs with stepped whitewashed roofs so that precious rainwater was funnelled into holding tanks under homes.

Conservation of water was ever paramount in Bermuda families’ lives, particularly during drought seasons. Family were strict about conservation and punishments (yes) were meted out for wasting water, far more often than any other trifling transgression.

Imagine leaving a commode facility or tap running until the 5,000-10,000 gallon family tank ran dry. It could spell disaster as the careless infraction was never as much about the cost of buying water, but the fact that there was not always water to purchase.

Co-operative neighbours were golden friends under these circumstances since there was little opportunity elsewhere.

In the 1930s, the Bermuda Government and a private concern, now Watlington Waterworks Ltd, consolidated geologic research efforts in utilising a process to siphon off fresh — sometimes brackish — water from water lenses sitting below Bermuda’s ancient limestone aquifer formations.

Basically, there are two components to this system:

• The limestone acts as a cleansing filter for groundwater (rain) flowing through it into the underlying aquifers where it recharges.

• The fresh water literally sits on top of the underlying salt water.

Salt water has a denser higher specific gravity than the lighter fresh water, allowing the fresh water to float so that siphoning action can take place. While the lens is a fragile ecosystem, usage is also carefully monitored for procedure in not breaking the two-layered surface.

In 1996, a team from the St George’s Preparatory School from Primary 3, 5 and 7 (by Danielle Burrows, Rolisa Furbert, Natasha Pedro-Petty, Sara Araujo and Adrian Black), wrote a wonderful detailed report entitled Water in Our Community, replete with serious illustrations. The facts are tiny bit dated — purchased water today costs a lot more than $55 a truckload, but twenty years on, I’m sure these very young people have become successful adults. It is a charming read, see links below.

Today, Bermuda’s water supplies are derived from four sources: rainfall, dug wells, water aquifers, and reverse osmosis desalination plants.

Investment in Bermuda: Watlington Waterworks, since its founding in 1932, has invested in Bermuda, and has become a major Bermuda public company. It has successfully endured as a vital natural resource for our island, while Watlington Waterworks Ltd has expanded its subsidiaries to provide potable water to Bermuda residents and businesses through:

• The traditional lens structures.

• Reverse osmosis desalination plants.

• Pure bottled water.

• Programme of upgrading its facilities and extending its pipeline network into residential areas.

It now supplies drinking water to the City of Hamilton and to most parishes west of Devonshire, including Southampton and Sandys.

Owning a Piece of the Rock, literally: you can own a piece of the rock by owning shares of this Bermuda utility company that has invested more than 80 years of expertise, growth, and capital infrastructure to provide Bermuda islanders with clean, fresh water. Watlington Waterworks Ltd (WWW.BH) shares are listed on the Bermuda Stock Exchange for public purchase and sale.

Trading price at close of business on Thursday, June 1, 2017 was $27.50 per share with a quarterly dividend of 15 cents per share.

Detailed public company information is available at the BSX website: http://www.bsx.com/company_details.php?CompanyID=112

Disclosure: the author does not own, sell, or provide investment advice on this stock.

References

Water Supply, the most earnest and well-researched white paper by the Bermuda Primary 7, 5, and 3 grades of St George’s Primary School 1995, some 20-plus years ago,( goo.gl/QY6YEl )

Rain Water as a Water Supply Source in Bermuda, by D.H. Waller, Technical University of Nova Scotia, Canada presented at First International Conference on Rain Water Cistern Systems, Honolulu, Hawaii in June 1982 ( goo.gl/5zWdMu )

Bermuda Architecture ( www.bermuda-online.org/architecture.htm )

For the very curious: Geology and Hydrogeology of Carbonate Islands, Chapter 2, Bermuda, HL Vacher and Mark P Rowe, 1997 Elsevier Science BV ( goo.gl/hWyh1T ).

Martha Harris Myron CPA PFS JSM: Masters of Law — International Tax and Financial Services; Pondstraddler, life™ financial perspectives for Bermuda islanders with multinational families and international connections on the Great Atlantic Pond. Contact: martha@pondstraddler.com

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Published Jun 3, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Jun 4, 2017 at 3:25 pm)

Investing in water — salt and fresh

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