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Gov't working to address water challenges

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, September 16, 2019

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SENATOR Pearnel Charles Jr supports the United Nations' (UN) position that “water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change”.

The second-generation politician, who has now been placed in charge of the water portfolio, acknowledges that recent climatic events across the Caribbean suggest that the threat is no longer futuristic, but is either happening or about to happen.

The minister with responsibility for water, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer last week, said several things have made this much clearer in the Corporate Area, in recent months including the supply from the Mona Dam, which has dropped from 12 million gallons per day to three million gallons per day; the Hope system is down from 5.7 million gallons per day to 2.8 gallons per day, affecting some very significant communities and institutions, including The University Hospital of the West Indies in Mona, Old Hope Road, Lady Musgrave Road, and commercial areas like New Kingston; Constant Spring, which ideally provides 16 million gallons per day, is now averaging nine to 10 million gallons per day.

Charles Jr said that his main concern is that the system continues to rely heavily on rainfall, which, unfortunately, is changing its pattern so fast that even Portlanders have become concerned about the low levels of rainfall they are experiencing in the parish.

He insisted that these signals have not been lost on the Government or Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who, as far back as May, announced several initiatives to improve the supply of water to the Corporate Area and St Catherine, at an estimated cost of US$160 million.

These measures included plans for the construction of a 15-million-gallon-per-day water treatment plant in the Rio Cobre/St Catherine area. The plant is to be established under a public-private partnership arrangement, with the private entity responsible for financing, designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining the plant, and selling water to the National Water Commission (NWC).

“Over time, our system has become certainly vulnerable because it relies on rain,” Charles Jr admitted. “It is becoming more vulnerable as climate change intensifies because we are relying on a source which we cannot control.

“So, one of the things we are doing now is to diversify the water systems. We are expanding the use of wells; we are exploring the introduction of technology, for example osmosis, desalination and a much more reasonable electricity cost because electricity is needed to power the pumping of water into the system,” he explained.

The minister with responsibility for water continued: “We waste and lose too much water in Jamaica, due to inadequacies in our system, infrastructure and management practices. So, our goal must be to reduce the amount of water we are losing because that is water that we already have, as opposed to trying to tap into new sources and to achieve new systems of procuring water.

“The reality is that, if we focus on developing a system that is more efficient than treating with what we already have, we will be able to supply adequately. It's just the cost. So we have to be doing a multiplicity of things. We have to be developing new sources and implementing simultaneously,” he argued.

Charles Jr said while fixing and improving behavioural changes, in terms of conserving, “we are putting in place more systems to store water and learning how to utilise water in a more efficient way, as well as establishing partnerships with international companies that are experts in the efficiency of water systems to put in place the necessary structures to reduce our non-revenue water (NRW)”.

Charles Jr said loss from NRW, which is really water for which no one is paying, has been reduced from 63 per cent to 43 per cent, due primarily to the implementation of project partnerships.

“We have significant challenges, but we are advancing in terms of an integrated water resources management system, which involves the advancement and implementation of a policy of better management and maintenance of our systems. This means that myself, as minister, I am working directly with the chairman of the NWC (Senator Aubyn Hill) to make sure that the operation is effective, in terms of aligning with what we want as the objectives of the policy,” he noted.


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