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JIS News

Bauxite and alumina operations have been blamed for rising waters in some communities in recent times, but at least one expert in this area, has sought to dispel this view.
Basil Fernandez, Managing Director of the Water Resources Authority (WRA), tells JIS News, that the first recorded case of rising water occurred 142 years before bauxite operations even started in Jamaica.
He notes that Moneague in St. Ann, which is one of the communities being affected by rising waters, had similar cases of flooding in 1810 and again in 1916 and 1933. In the last two instances, he says, almost one square mile of area was flooded with a number of houses covered, and lives were lost.
“These incidents of flooding preceded bauxite mining or bauxite operations in the Moneague area,” Mr. Fernandez tells JIS News. West Indies Alumina Company (Windalco), formerly Alcan Jamaica, began bauxite operations in the island in 1952.
In terms of Harmons, Manchester, the WRA head says that prior to the flooding of 2002 and 2005 through to this year, there were reports of inundation in the area in 1916 and 1933. “Again, that also predates the bauxite mining operations in the area and the conclusion that we can draw is clearly that in both instances, flooding has been taking place in these areas prior to the implementation of the bauxite aluminum industry in Jamaica,” he says.
According to Mr. Fernandez, the WRA, following assessments of the affected areas and data collated over the last couple of years, has been able to deduce a possible cause for the flooding. In the case of Harmons, he blames the heavy rains associated with tropical storms Isadore and Lily for the 2002 flooding and hurricanes Dennis, Emily and Wilma for the flooding of 2005 an thereafter.
“The basic thing is that we have had significant input of rainfall, which has exceeded the storage capacity of the limestone. This has meant that ground water levels have risen significantly and in many instances, have come above ground level,” he explains.
He adds that this has given rise to numerous springs, which flow into these low line depressions, allowing the water to come all the way from Mile Gully moving through a highly permeable zone from Melrose Hill down into Porus, and then south to Harmons and into the Milk River systems, where it discharges before flowing out to sea.
“It has to do with a high degree of rainfall, the high permeability of the limestone in the region, the low storage capacity available in the limestone and hence, the water has come to the surface,” he points out.
A similar thing, he notes, has occurred in Moneague, where there have been very high levels of rainfall exceeding 2,800 millimetres for the year. This is similar to what happened in 1916 and 1933. “Again, it is all related to the volume of rainfall, the permeability of the limestone, the large catchment area and the capacity of the limestone being exceeded, and therefore, the water has to be discharged somewhere,” he says.
Stressing that the drilling operations being conducted by Jamalco in Harmons, and Windalco in Moneague are not to be blamed for the flooding, Mr. Fernandez says, “there has seen drilling taking place to determine the thickness of the bauxite deposit, but as I have mentioned to the citizens at community meetings, when you are drilling to the bauxite deposit, you are just basically auguring and taking samples for analysis”.
“Once you remove the drill out of the hole, the bauxite immediately closes around the hole. They don’t drill into the limestone because they are not interested in the limestone; they are just interested in the bauxite,” he adds.
As to what can be done to address the rising waters, Mr. Fernandez says, “we have to just wait on nature for the water to run off because what has happened is because of the high water table. There is very little storage space and there is nowhere for the water to go so the water keeps rising.”
He however expects that as the rainfall reduces due to the dry season, the ground water levels are going to fall. “So, you will find that storage space will be created in the aquifer and the water gradually drains away,” he explains, noting that this is already happening in the affected communities.
In Moneague, the water level has declined by approximately three to four inches and Fernandez says the rate of decline is expected to increase and the water will begin moving out of the system very quickly.
But while the rising waters have affected peoples’ lives, forcing residents from their homes, mining operations have also been hampered. According to Mr. Fernandez, the flooding has resulted in the abandonment of pits in Harmons and new roads have had to be cut to transport the bauxite from the mining areas to the loading facility. Mining pits have also been abandoned in Moneague.
Mining, he says, “will return once the water is drawn, but right now, they cannot mine in those areas. It means they will have to find new mining areas, which may be further from the plant and the quality may be different. it does have an impact on the plant production.”
Given that the flooding is as a result of heavy rainfall and the permeability of limestone in the areas, Mr. Fernandez says that there could possibly be a repeat of the problem in a number of years. As such, he notes the importance of demarking areas that can be safe for housing to minimize property losses and disruption of lives.
He informs JIS News of plans to embark on a floodwater control project by next year, to look at mapping these flood-prone areas, and to carry out hydraulic analyses to better guide development in those areas.