No more speaking with 'water in the mouth', NWC

Friday, May 17, 2019

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Finally , we are starting to see signs that some amount of thought is being engaged in dealing with the water crisis that has been plaguing Jamaicans for decades.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the country that the Government is embarking on a number of initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of worsening drought conditions that have been affecting the Corporate Area and St Catherine, in particular.

Among the initiatives Mr Holness announced in the Parliament is the construction of a 15-million-gallon per day water treatment plant in the Rio Cobre under a public private partnership arrangement.

He also said that the National Water Commission (NWC) and a Cabinet-appointed enterprise team, along with a private sector consortium, have been mandated to complete all negotiations within 45 days. At the end, construction is expected to commence later this year for a period of 24 months.

The total cost to develop the project and construct the new water treatment plant is estimated at US$60 million.

However, the prime minister advised the House of Representatives that the project is contingent on the divestment of Central Wastewater Treatment Company, which owns the Soapberry Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Mr Holness also outlined plans for a network of water pipelines across specific sections of the capital, all of which will come at great cost, mostly, we suspect, because the existing mains are aged and, in many respects, corroded.

Quite frankly, the initiative announced by the prime minister is more than overdue and speaks to the manner in which the NWC has been managed over many years.

Outside of the losses the NWC incurs from theft and leaks, as well as disruptions to its service caused by the current road rehabilitation projects in the Corporate Area, we don't get the impression that the entity has the ability to properly manage the country's water resources.

For instance, drought affects the island almost every year but, instead of expanding its capacity to harvest and distribute water, the NWC engages in annual hand-wringing about decreasing water storage levels forcing it to implement restrictions.

In fact, we know of communities in the Corporate Area and rural areas where regular water supply has, for decades, been an aberration which has only worsened with the current road works. The frustration felt by residents of those communities has been well documented.

Indeed, the politicians and NWC officials who go to those communities to “turn on” piped water service, after years of neglect, should do so quietly instead of shamelessly seeking publicity for what is really an indictment on their job performance.

On Tuesday, the prime minister said that under the current water production conditions, only approximately 35 million gallons per day are available for distribution in Kingston and St Andrew, representing a shortfall of approximately 26 million gallons per day of installed capacity.

That shortfall will most likely increase with new housing and commercial complexes — which are now under construction — making demands on the network.

There is no doubt, as Mr Holness noted, that additional water production capacity has to be established. That, we acknowledge, will take time. No more speaking with 'water in the mouth', please.

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