JIS News

Jamaica’s water is rated as Class one, or among the highest quality in the world, and there is enough to serve the needs of the population, says Managing Director of the Water Resources Authority (WRA), Basil Fernandez.
“Our water quality is very good. We don’t have some of the water quality problems that we see in North America, primarily because we don’t have the same level of industrialisation and we have been a little more proactive in dealing with some of the water quality issues,” , Mr. Fernandez told a Jamaica Information Service (JIS) Think Tank in Kingston on Thursday July 2.
“Our water resources assessment indicates that Jamaica has enough water to meet its demands, although we do have some problems in harnessing and distributing the water resources, which is the responsibility of the National Water Commission (NWC), and the National Irrigation Commission (NIC), which provides water for agricultural purposes to farmers,” the WRA head told the Think Tank.
He said that uncontrolled drilling for water before 1961, when anyone could drill a well anywhere, led to increased salination in some areas, as a result of over pumping which allowed sea water to get into the aquifers.
This, and contamination from bauxite mining caused by red mud waste and dunder, a by-product of rum production, have impacted Jamaica’s water quality. Red mud, he stated, contains contaminants such as sodium hydroxide and caustic soda.
Mr. Fernandez said that inadequate sewage disposal also poses a danger to the island’s water resources.
He revealed that one of the greatest risks to ground and surface water is poor sewage construction systems. Some sewage systems are not properly constructed and, in some places, there is no system at all, so people put things in soak-away pits that go straight into the water table.
“The greatest risk to our water is coming from urbanisation and sewage,” Mr. Fernandez confirmed. He added that in order to address the problem, the WRA works through an integrated water resources management, by working along with the Ministry of Health.
“We work along with the Ministry of Health’s Environmental Health Unit, which has responsibility for the final design of sewage systems across the island. We are also part of the development approval process, through the National Environmental Planning Agency (NEPA) and National Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA),” he explained.
He said that the WRA also makes recommendations on susceptibility of aquifers, the impact of certain types of developments, as well as what it would like to see, in terms of drainage and flood prevention and the reduction of contamination from sewage and other waste.
He said that while the WRA makes recommendations, it also works with other organisations and is not just a stand-alone body.
Developments in Kingston have led to the abandonment of several wells and the need to transport water from outside of the area. For this reason, no new developments with soak-away pits are being approved for the city, since these pits have served to leak sewage into the water table and pollute once productive water sources. Instead, systems, with sewage disposal equipment like biodigesters, have to be put in place for new developments.
The WRA regulates and allocates water in Jamaica, through a series of licences and permits and promotes the preservation, conservation, and proper use of this resource. Under the Water Resources Act (1995), the abstraction and use of water from all surface or groundwater sources require a licence.
The WRA should also be notified prior to changing the pump on any existing works. A new licence is required if this results in a change in the abstraction volume, as occurs with the widening of a well.

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