KINGSTON — Minister of Housing, Environment, Water and Local Government, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, has assured residents of Mona Heights and surrounding areas that in the event of a severe drought, such as the one the country experienced last year, they will not experience extended periods of water lock-offs.
He was addressing a public meeting at the Mona Heights community centre in St. Andrew last evening, where scores of persons turned out to be informed about water-related developments in the area and voice their concerns.
Just under $2 billion (US$17.5 million) is being provided by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for major rehabilitation works on the Mona and Hope water treatment plants, which serve the area, to provide residents with a more reliable source of water.
"We are doing major work on the Hope plant, which currently has not only fallen below its normal capacity of 6.5 million gallons per day, but many times in the rainy season, some of the citizens have their water turned off, because that plant has serious problems in terms of the water currently coming into the plant,” Dr. Chang told the gathering.
He explained that part of the problem was environmental, as when the plant was built, the water coming in from the Hope River was of good quality “but now, most of the time when rain falls, we get mud, and the plant cannot treat it, so we have to lock down the plant”.
The Water Minister said this is due to the fact that more persons have chosen to build upstream of the collection system, many without proper planning, thereby destroying forestry, and the watershed.
Therefore, Dr. Chang said, “we hope in due course to do mitigation work in the watershed to restore the water quality – in fact, we have concluded discussions with the IDB to do major work in both Hope River Valley and the Yallahs Valley, which will restore the watershed to some acceptable quality”.
As it regards the Mona plant, which was commissioned in 1986, he said this facility does not have a quality issue, but is in need of significant refurbishing.
Once these two projects are completed, Dr. Chang said, supply will become more reliable. “So even if we have a bad drought next year, you will not have the lock offs that you had and we are satisfied that those in the Hope Treatment zone will get your water on a 24/7 basis,” he stated.
The National Water Commission (NWC) is the implementing agency for the project, slated to get underway this month. Egis Bceom International of France has been engaged as the consulting engineers, with the works contract awarded to VINCI Construction Grand Projects.
The Minister also used the opportunity to introduce new senior executives of the NWC, assuring citizens that the customer service, which was once a sore point with customers, had improved significantly.
He noted also the focus on recapitalising and retooling the NWC, through investments. “In spending all that money, you want quality service…once we decided to put the capital in place to raise the efficiency of the water commission…we indicated to the Water Commission that we wanted a company whose management would not only be capable to implement the programme and manage it well, but also to interface with our customers,” Dr. Chang told residents.
Also participating in the meeting was President of the NWC, Albert Gordon, and several NWC representatives, who made presentations on how the upgraded systems, as well as proposed centralised sewerage treatment plants, would affect the community.
By Alphea Saunders, JIS Reporter