Sun | Oct 1, 2023

Mandate water harvesting

Stakeholders call for legislation as parched conditions worsen

Published:Saturday | March 4, 2023 | 1:15 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter

For decades many Jamaicans especially those living in the Corporate Area have had to grapple with strict water restrictions. This perennial issue has triggered intense debate and calls for a sustainable fix to the age-old problem.

A Gleaner headline 38 years ago blared: ‘Drought Ravaging Kingston – widespread grief,’ and detailed measures taken by the National Water Commission (NWC) to conserve water, including restricting it to three to four hours a day.

“It’s pure grief,” a resident of Harbour View told The Gleaner in 1985. “We have to bathe out of pan and wipe up sometimes.”

And as the current drought season gives rise to yet another water crisis, at least two stakeholders are calling for the passing of legislation to mandate water harvesting.

“We have to ensure that every Jamaican household is undertaking water harvesting,” Opposition spokesperson on Land, Environment and Climate Change, Sophia Frazer-Binns said in a Gleaner interview yesterday.

Section 61 (a) of the Building Act 2018 stipulates that buildings should make provisions for water harvesting. However, the regulations which would allow for its enforcement are still not in place.

Fraser-Binns said this piece of regulation is especially important as more increasing high-rise developments are built in the Corporate Area.

She lamented that the drought conditions are compounded by climate change.

While supporting the call to conserve, Frazer-Binns said it cannot be the only option.

“It is a call that has in so many ways fallen on deaf ears because every year during the drought period we say ‘Conserve, conserve’, we have water lock-off, and then not only do we not conserve, once we have rainfall we go back to the same bad habits; there has to be consistency,” she said.

Head of the Incorporated Masterbuilders Association of Jamaica, Lenworth Kelly, pointed to NWC’s policy of not providing water pressure beyond the first two floors of high-rise buildings. It is up to the developers to make arrangements to lift and store for higher floors.

Kelly contends that more developers would harvest water if it was mandated, and urged legislators to expedite the regulation to support the act.

“They need to hurry up that,” he said. “My fear is we’re having the discussions now because there is a drought but as soon as rain starts to fall, back to square one, with regulations, we forget about harvesting. Unfortunately, we are a reactive rather than proactive kind of people,” he said.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Friday announced a $100 million fund to provide water to communities most affected by drought. This is in addition to an earlier $50 million allocation.

He stated that the country has been experiencing a reduction in rainfall since October last year, which has since worsened with preliminary results for February showing that it may be lower than 30 per cent of the 30-year average.

The prime minister said the funds will be allocated through the Constituency Development Fund, but only parishes assessed as being in need will receive, as the Government tries to “maximise the value of the response”.

He also announced that the Government is procuring eight more water trucks to add to the 21 currently in its fleet to truck water to affected communities.

Holness also lauded the NWC’s efforts to reduce the leaks in its network.

President of the agency, Mark Barnett, said approximately $1.5 billion has been spent fixing the network over the last seven years. This, he said, has resulted in a 26 per cent reduction in losses.

Barnett commented on why the investment to fix the network was critical at this time as opposed to storage or building out a new facility.

“The maths and economics is simple. If I have a network that is losing 60 per cent plus of what I put in the network, it stands to argue that you have to fix that network because whatever new capacity you add to that network you’re going to lose 60 per cent of it anyway and then you question the value of that investment and its effectiveness to your solution,” he said.

The prime minister in the meantime is encouraging Jamaicans to conserve as much water as they can.

He said that while the Government continues to expand its water production and distribution through wells and catchment, a long-term solution will involve behavioural change.