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It comes as no surprise that Managing Director of the Water Resources Authority (WRA), Basil Fernandez, was bestowed with a Gold Award by the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA), for meritorious service and outstanding contribution to that sector, during the organisation’s conference in Montego Bay, St. James, in October. Mr. Fernandez has given some 40 years of distinguished service to the public sector in Jamaica, and has worked in the water resources field for all those years.
The award bears the legend: “Distinguished Service Gold Award for Meritorious and Outstanding Contribution to the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Industry,” and recognises some of the work done by this Jamaican stalwart, over his years of service to the water sector.
Basil Fernandez began working in the field of water resources in December 1968, as a Geological Assistant, at what was then the Water Resources Division of the Geological Survey Department. This Division was responsible for establishing a hydrologic/hydro-geologic programme across Jamaica, to assess the island’s water resources.
The quality of his work was of such a high standard, that then acting Director of the Division described the young Basil, as one who “worked well in this Division”, “acquired considerable practical knowledge”, and “showed outstanding ability, intelligence, and a sense of responsibility”.
Consequent on this, Mr. Fernandez was promoted to Assistant Hydrogeologist in 1975, where he assumed responsibility for organising and directing the activities undertaken in the data section of the Groundwater Branch. He established, and assisted in carrying out, monitoring programmes for the data collection section, which entailed the processing, collating, and storage of all information and records channelled through the branch. Additionally, he undertook preparation of reports on special research projects, and carried out hydrogeological reconnaissance.
Mr. Fernandez earned a B.Sc. degree in Geology from the University of the West Indies in 1979, and this, according to Acting Director, M. Walters in 1981, coupled with competence, hard work, and experience, subsequently resulted in his promotion to the post of Hydro-geologist. In 1980/1981, he was awarded a scholarship to do post graduate studies in Water Resources Management and Engineering at the Israeli Institute of Technology (Technion).
The hard-working young man rose through the ranks of the Water Resources Division, by dint of hard work and application, and was duly appointed to serve as Acting Deputy Director in 1984, before being promoted to Director of the Data and Resources Monitoring Division two years later. In this substantive post, Mr. Fernandez planned, organised, and had overall responsibility for the activities of the Groundwater and Drilling Units, which entailed compilation and preparation of technical reports on the feasibility of water resource projects.
He also sited, designed, and tested wells; trained junior staff in analytical methods, techniques, and interpretation of results; provided advice and information to the public and private sectors; and acted as Technical Advisor to the Board of the then Underground Water Authority (UWA), formerly the Water Resources Division.
In 1992, Mr. Fernandez was promoted to the position of Deputy Managing Director of the UWA, and when the organisation’s name was subsequently changed to the Water Resources Authority (WRA) in 1995, he was appointed Managing Director of the new entity. The WRA was established, consequent on the promulgation of the Water Resources Act of 1995, which Mr. Fernandez was integrally involved in drafting, as well as getting passed through Parliament, and into law.
The major activities of the WRA include: hydrologic data collection, compilation, and analysis; water resources investigation, assessment, and planning; water resources allocation; and environmental monitoring and impact assessment. The WRA routinely monitors river flows at 133 gauging stations, and groundwater at 1,802 sites across the island.
It has a database of quality-checked data, stored in computerised format dating back to the 1950s. Projects, such as the Rio Cobre Dam Reconstruction, benefitted greatly from the use of this database. Rational water allocation was formally facilitated by the issuing of licences for groundwater abstraction.
Since the enactment of the Water Resources Act of 1995, entities abstracting surface water have been required to obtain licences. The Act gives to the WRA the responsibility for planning the orderly development and equitable allocation of water resources, including the analysis of alternative methods of developing and supplying water.
Basil Fernandez is a man with a prodigious memory, who seldom speaks of himself and his achievements, but continues to command the respect of his peers and the many people whose lives he has touched. The man who knows the location of almost every well of significance in Jamaica, continues to serve, and is an example of where dedication to service can lead.