Water profile of St. Kitts and Nevis

Source: FAO

Geography and Population

caption Map of Saint Kitts and Nevis. (Source: FAO)

The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis comprises two relatively small islands, 360 square kilometers (km2) of total area, located between latitudes 17°10? and 17°25? N, and longitudes 62° and 63° W, and forming part of the Leeward Island group of the Eastern Caribbean. About 5,500 hectares (ha) in St. Kitts and 1,000 ha in Nevis were cultivated in 1997. The majority of land on St. Kitts is state-owned. In the case of Nevis fifteen government estates occupy 30% of the total land area.

Sugar cane is the main export crop and is cultivated in fields that form a continuous belt around the island. A statutory body, the St. Kitts Sugar Manufacturing Corporation (SSMC) manages about forty government-owned sugar estates (4,200 ha). The remaining 1,300 ha are under pasture or temporary crops. Of the latter, vegetables (total of 10 ha) are farmed on the periphery of sugar cane plantations or in abandoned areas of the estates. Agriculture on both islands is mainly rainfed. A total of 4,000 ha is pasture land, of which 2,800 ha are on Nevis. Only two government farms exist on Nevis with a total of 500 ha. On Nevis, vegetables and root crops are cultivated on a subsistence basis and some cotton is grown for export. The livestock sector here includes cattle, small ruminants, and pigs.

The population of St. Kitts was about 32,740 and that of Nevis 9,130 in 1990. Of this total the urban to rural ratio is approximately 1:2 for St. Kitts and 1:5 for Nevis. Agriculture's contribution to the Gross Domestica Product (GDP) has declined steadily from 17% in the 1980s to 5.1% in 1997 as the tourism and construction sectors have increased in importance over the past decade. In 1994 the sector accounted for 42% of the export earnings, mainly from sugar and cotton with a small contribution from conch and lobster. With the increasing importance of the tourism and construction sectors, which pay higher wages, the agricultural sector has had to resort to contracting workers from Guyana for the annual sugar cane harvest. Agricultural lands are categorized as follows: (i) government sugar estates; (ii) fallow sugar estates on short-term rental; (iii) vegetable production, and (iv) livestock production.

Climate and Water Resources


Both islands have a tropical climate influenced mainly by the northeast trade winds of the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone. Average annual rainfall in St. Kitts ranges from 1,270 millimeters (mm) to 1,905 mm. Most of this precipitation occurs from September to January.

Water Resources

Annual average yields for St Kitts are 3.6 million cubic meters (m3) for surface sources and 20 million m3 for groundwater sources. Currently the island experiences water shortages in some rural communities during the dry season. Nevis experiences lower annual rainfall than St. Kitts, and has lower yielding water sources.

Water Withdrawal

St. Kitts' water supply system comprises six surface water intakes which supply five mainly independent water distribution systems. There are also five wells, which supplement the water supply with a coastal aquifer of maximum safe yield of 16 million m3/yr as the major groundwater source. Nevis' water supply available from the mountain spring intakes has to be supplemented (seasonally) by water from several earthen dams (total capacity 90 million m3). Roof catch is also utilized to supplement domestic supplies.

The entire population of both islands has some degree of access to domestic water supplies. Where water is supplied by public standpipes, the standpipes are located within 400 meters (m) of the households served.

Irrigation and Drainage Development

The irrigation potential of the island is estimated, based on water resources and topography, at 200 ha (180 ha for St. Kitts and 20 ha for Nevis). There has been limited experience of irrigation within the sugar industry. In the late 1970 and early 1980 the sugar manufacturing company utilized a rain gun fed from a shallow well on one estate. In the case of vegetable production, a 3-ha vegetable production, demonstration plot utilizing sprinkler irrigation was established on the same estate and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) also undertook some experimental work. The CARDI initiative utilized drip irrigation for a total of seven farmers on the islands.

Generally, in St. Kitts, because vegetable production is carried out on the lower hill slopes, access to irrigation water is very limited. Some 8 ha are irrigated mainly on government demonstration plots and private farms utilizing the domestic supply. Also, the construction of tanks (average capacity 341 m3) has been encouraged on some farms to extend the production season as far as possible. In Nevis, approximately 10 ha are irrigated from surface water and half from groundwater. Schemes are small and are operated by a total of eight households; 4.5 ha are privately-owned schemes, 2 ha are smallholder/government enterprises, and the remaining 3.5 ha are government schemes.

Institutional Environment

Water resources management and development fall under the purview of the Water Departments in the two islands. There is no relevant legislation in place for the development of water for the agricultural sector. The Departments of Agriculture are responsible for coordinating efforts to develop the irrigation and drainage sector.

Trends in Water Resources Management

Over the last five years, house connections for water have averaged 500 per year. An expanding tourism/hotel sector is expected to create the largest need for increased water supply in the near future. The Water Department does not cater for irrigated agriculture, but has however accommodated the requests of some livestock owners. Because of the relatively high consumption and water scarcity situation, requests from crop farmers are rarely given consideration.

The Department of Agriculture, St. Kitts, considers the lack of water for supplementary irrigation in the dry season as the major constraint to achieving one of its primary goals: year round production of selected vegetables. The Department has investigated mountain springs which formerly fed sugar estates. The use of polymer-lined reservoirs is presently being evaluated.

The Nevis Water Department gives an estimate of 360 house connections per year over the last five years. Tourism expansion is also considered to be the area of increased demand in the immediate future. Because of the minimal size of irrigation schemes and farms in the Federation, there have not been any significant environmental concerns. Drip irrigation predominates and the water table does not come into play in the areas presently irrigated.

Constraints to water and irrigation development include:

  • high cost of exploratory drilling
  • high cost of irrigation development per unit area
  • difference in altitude between farms foothills above sugar cane fields and the groundwater aquifers near sea level
  • high construction cost of polymer-lined reservoirs
  • small catchment areas which limit maximum size of reservoirs
  • inaccessibility of mountain springs

Further Reading

  • St. Kitts Sugar Manufacturing Coorporation. SSMC. 1998. 1997. Annual Report. Agricultural Division. Basseterre.
  • World Bank. 1992. St. Cristopher and Nevis, Agricultural Diversification Project. Land Use Project. Report STK/92/RDI. Washington D.C.
  • Department of Agriculture, St. Kitts. 1997. Annual Agricultural Statistics Digest 1997. FAO. 1996. Horizon 2010. St. Kitts and Nevis. World Food Summit Follow-Up. Draft Strategy for National Agricultural Development. Rome.
  • Knight, G. 1997. Watershed management in St. Kitts and Nevis. CARICOM/Cooperation Programme. International Simposium on protection catchment area management. Trinidad & Tobago. Port of Spain.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Food and Agriculture Organization. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Food and Agriculture Organization should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



(2008). Water profile of St. Kitts and Nevis. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156992


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