OUR Grants NWC 30-Day Suspension Of Quality Of Service Standards


The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) has granted the National Water Commission (NWC) a 30-day suspension of the Quality of Service Standards, thus relieving the company of obligations to comply and compensate customers for breaches in service quality caused by damage and other uncontrollable factors related to Hurricane Dean.
The standards were suspended due to ‘Force Majeure’ or exceptional conditions, which have affected the quality of the water and sewerage services the NWC offers its customers.
According to a gazetted notice in the newspapers on Wednesday (Aug. 29), the suspension was approved by OUR Director General, J. Paul Morgan who “granted a 30-day suspension, effective August 19, 2007, of NWC’s obligation to comply with Quality of Service Standards as outlined in Document No WAT 2004.01.1,” based on an application submitted by the NWC.
The suspension covers the period August 19 to September 17, but Chief of Water and Transport Regulations at the OUR, Marie James in an interview with JIS News, said the situation would be reviewed this weekend.
“We actually asked for a restoration plan. We’re presently reviewing it, and by the end of the week, the Communication Department should put something out. What we are doing is, we’re collating all the information from all the providers in the water and sewerage sectors… we’re going to put out a general statement on what the status is and when full service is expected to be restored.by weekend,” she said.
Explaining the suspension, Miss James informed that both the Overall Standards and the Guaranteed Standards schemes have been suspended. The Quality of Service Scheme for the National Water Commission sets out overall standards, which identify performance measures for water quality, water pressure, reliability of supply, sewerage effluent quality and change of water meter by which the NWC can be assessed.
With respect to the Guaranteed Standards Scheme, under normal circumstances, customers could claim compensation for any breaches in services relating to access to water supply (connections), delivery of bills, response to bill-related and non-bill related complaints, account status, meter installation, repair or replacement of faulty meters, meter reading, reconnections, payment of overdue amounts, and payment of compensation by the NWC to customers. “Generally speaking, it (the standards) can be suspended if something happened out of the control of the company, and hurricane is a part of it, bad weather, natural disaster, civil unrest, strikes – those are a part of the list of conditions that will allow them to apply for a suspension,” Miss James outlined.
“During this time period, what the customers of NWC would need to know is that if, for example, the water pressure is low, or let’s say they file a complaint, and NWC didn’t respond within five working days, according to the standards, they cannot submit a claim and say, ‘you have breached this standard’ because of the circumstances surrounding it. Even if the customer applies while submitting a claim for a breach, the company will say, but the standards are suspended until after September 17,” she pointed out. She noted that poor water quality and unreliability in supply are some of the usual effects of the passage of a hurricane on the public water supply system.
“This would be high turbidity because of the soil erosion or because of the hurricane, because of the flooding or you may not get water 24 hours because of a breakdown in the system or there is no light, so its unreasonable to expect the company to deliver continuous service given that they (NWC) have to wait on JPS (Jamaica Public Service) to reconnect,” she reasoned.
Under the Office of Utilities Regulation Act, water and sewerage providers must notify and apply to OUR for exemption from the Quality of Standards Scheme, in circumstances where compliance is beyond their control. The standards document states that “the OUR must be promptly notified by the NWC in all cases of suspension or proposed suspension of the scheme indicating the exact duration of such suspension, and that the burden of proof of exceptional circumstance will lie with the NWC.”
Examples of Force Majeure conditions or exceptional events are: bad weather or natural disaster, system conditions such as major breakdown of treatment plants or pumping stations, drought, civil unrest, strikes, and malicious destruction of property.
Last Friday (Aug. 24), NWC’s Risk and Insurance Manager, Karl McDonald, told the media at a press briefing held at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management’s Camp Road offices that damage to the municipal water and sewerage system has to date chalked up “$52 million and counting”.
Mr. McDonald also reported that the company had restored 80 per cent of its capacity to customers on its larger systems, but were facing constraints with disrupted power supply, which was affecting the smaller systems.
Persons can find more information on the Quality of Service Standards regulations at OUR’s website at www.our.org.jm.

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