Bermuda residents search for rain in midst of lengthy drought

A native of Bermuda visiting western Colorado and gazing at the roaring Colorado River last week might have scratched his head, wondering why it is that we in the western United States have heated battles over, of all things, water. If anybody should know anything about the scarcity of water, he’d think, it should be him.

After all, where he comes from, a tiny archipelago 700 miles off the coast of South Carolina in the Atlantic Ocean, the only naturally occurring fresh water is that which falls from the sky. There is not a single stream or fresh-water lake in all of Bermuda.

It’s a picturesque place. Every structure is topped with a whitewashed roof made of ridges of shingles that collect rainwater and funnel it to a tank under the house. There is no municipal water supply. Each house collects its own water. There is a government operated desalination plant to supplement what is collected from rain, but it doesn’t produce a great deal and it is costly.

The white roofs are known as “icing.” But it’s not like Bermudians have their cake and eat it too. The icing has not been doing much for them lately, other than serving as fodder for tourists’ snapshots.

There’s been no significant rainfall for more than three months. Normal rainfall year-to-date for the end of June in Bermuda is about 26 inches. This year it stands at 13. There are no reservoirs on the island to store water for years like this. So when there isn’t much rain there isn’t much water. Such is the case in 2011.

The drought that has stricken this paradise in the middle of the Atlantic is beginning to get worrisome to Bermudians. A light drizzle was falling one morning last week. A few optimists raised umbrellas, though they weren’t really necessary. Squall lines to the west looked promising but they never materialized. Tourists grumbled about the paltry rain, at least those who hadn’t spent any time talking to locals. Those who had, kept their silence.

Bermudians are a friendly and chatty lot. It doesn’t take long to find out what’s on their mind. Lately they’ve been thinking about water. They’ve been thinking about it a lot. Talk to any of them, and the conversations will soon turn to the drought. They will tell you their island needs rain. It needs a lot of it. And it needs it soon.

A shopkeeper on Front Street, the main retail boulevard in Hamilton, the island’s largest town, said she’s never had to buy water before. But her water collection tank that gathers rainwater from her roof is about empty. She’s already instituted all the conservation measure she can think of: She and her children don’t shower as often as they’d like; they don’t flush the toilet as often as they’d like; the dishwasher only runs when it’s full; ditto the washing machine. But she worries she’ll have to buy water. It’s expensive — $80 for 1,000 gallons.

A t-shirt had this to say about the place: “Bermuda: 60,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock.” I don’t know if it was trying to say something about the island fever that afflicts people confined to a tiny piece of real estate, or if it says something about the fact that booze is simply easier and cheaper to get than water.

I’ve been to enough islands to know there’s something about living surrounded by water that makes people fond of alcohol. But I also know that on Bermuda there are a few people who would gladly trade booze for a good “tank rain” as they call it, one that lasts for a good long time.

In the UK, they call whiskey the “water of life.” In Bermuda, at least this year, they call water the water of life.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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