After longing for potable water for years, over 3,000 residents of White Horses, Botany Bay, and Pamphret in St. Thomas are now enjoying a regular supply of the precious commodity.
However, the supplier of the water is not the National Water Commission (NWC), but the White Horses/Botany Bay/Pamphret Water Supply System, one of four projects funded under the Government of Jamaica/Inter-American Development Bank (GOJ/IDB) US$12.5 million loan for community managed water supply systems.
Owner of the system is the White Horses/Botany Bay/Pamphret Development Benevolent Society (WBP/DBS), which was formed to implement and manage the supply of piped water to households in the communities.
“What we are having now is a sustainable consistent pressure and that is going to the highest point of the area that we are serving, and that is Botany Bay,” explained Immediate Past Chairman of the WBP/DBS, Mr. Leonard James.
Members of the White Horses/Botany Bay/Pamphret Benevolent Society (WBP/DBS) discuss the operation of the water supply system at the WBP/DBS office in Botany Bay, St. Thomas.
Some 200 households in the communities began receiving water for the first time, after they were connected in November/December, 2007. Since then, over 600 homes have been connected to the system, which can supply up to 19,200 persons, according to a document from the Programmes Implementation Unit.
“So we are only operating about a quarter of our capacity,” Mr. James admitted, adding that about seven to nine applications are received on a monthly basis for connections.
Mr. James said the Society was now exploring the possibility of supplying water to residents in Yallahs Bay, which is also in St. Thomas.
“All we are waiting on now is the National Water Commission to give us permission to use their existing pipe network, and if residents are willing to pay for the water .we have the capacity to add at least another 600 to 700 households,” he said.
But, the success of this water project did not come overnight; it came through the hard work and dedication of members of the benevolent society who wanted to improve conditions in their communities.
He said the idea originated in 2001, after an acute water situation affecting the island led to frequent road blocks, demonstrations and sometimes fights by residents in their quest for water.
“When we started this project there were many skeptics, because people did not believe we could really take on something like this, but when we started and people really saw that we were serious, they started to gravitate towards it,” he said.
Despite the skepticism, the contractor, Bacchus Engineering Works Limited, continued work on the project. Main and distribution pipelines were installed between the former Goodyear Factory in Springfield, Morant Bay and the three communities, and pipelines installed in five areas across the Pamphret main road.
An office was set up at the WBP/DBS in Botany Bay, and an office manager employed for the collection of application forms and the issuing of payment vouchers. A plumber and a meter reader were also employed for the reading of meters and the distribution of bills.
“So far we have completed the construction phase, we are now in the operation and distribution phase of the project,” Mr. James said with pride.
He revealed that the operational responsibilities of the system, which were still with the contractor, were being reviewed by the Society with the aim of making a few changes.
“From time to time, we will review the operations of the system to see whether people are properly served. Right now, we are looking at the billing process and the meter reading process. We may have to make some major decisions there,” he added.
When asked about the quality of the water, Mr. James said the project was serving an acceptable level of water, as approved by the health authorities.
He explained that the water from the Goodyear well is pumped into a 1,136, 500-litre reservoir in Healthful Hill, White Horses. The water quality is checked daily, at six different points in the distribution areas, by the Society. Tests are also carried out by the St. Thomas Health Department.
He said that customers have been paying their bills and, as a result, the Society has been able to pay its electricity bills.
“We’re paying up to $1.3 million per month to run the pump, we have been doing our regular repairs and we have a little left in case of an emergency. We are getting there,” he said.
The regular water supply in the communities has also helped in improving sanitary conditions. Initially, the Society provided toilet facilities for some 40 indigents in the communities. Subsequently, a revolving loan fund was set up to assist persons in improving and constructing new facilities.
“Some of the things that people used to do, they no longer do it. As far as garbage is concerned, we have a weekly collection,” he said.
He explained that residents are aware of the need for a clean and healthy environment, and have been reporting delinquent persons to the Society.
“If we are not getting anywhere with them, we work with the health authorities and they will come in to deal with the situation,” he explained.
Plans are also in place to encourage proper vending practices in the area to prevent persons from selling on the roadside.
“We are looking to put in place some kind of vending practice, where people learn how to package and how to sell their produce in a more friendly environment for people who want to stop and buy,” he said.