Editorial | More concerns about Bernard Lodge city
On the matter of expertise on Jamaica's water resource and its management, there may be someone as knowledgeable, but no one more so, than Basil Fernandez. Indeed, his respect as a hydrologist is international.
That's another reason why Prime Minister Andrew Holness' plan to establish a new urban centre at Bernard Lodge, on the alluvial plains of St Catherine, not only demands greater transparency than it has so far been afforded, but should be the subject of robust debate. For Mr Fernandez says that a city of the size Mr Holness has in mind would not only deplete the water resources in the area to the detriment of other communities and other sectors, but, in particular , agriculture.
Ultimately, nobody wins!
For those who may not be aware, Mr Fernandez spent many years as managing director of Jamaica's Water Resources Authority (WRA), the agency that regulates the exploitation of this critical commodity. He was also chairman of the National Irrigation Commission (NIC) and, importantly, a practical commentator on matters hydrological, which is significant to the prime minister's proposal.
Mr Holness unveiled his plan for the Bernard Lodge city nearly eight weeks ago during Parliament's debate of the Government's budget this fiscal year. It will involve, as the prime minister said, the construction of "17,000 housing solutions" as well as commercial buildings and manufacturing facilities and public infrastructure, including schools, recreation, and law enforcement facilities.
Although Mr Holness suggested that the project was subject to serious analysis and planning and gave the impression that lands may have already been allocated to developers, he provided no details. Neither has the Government, up to now, made available these studies nor indicated how they can be accessed.
This newspaper, among others, is uneasy about the proposed project for its intended conversion to real estate Jamaica's best agricultural lands, worsening a tendency that has metastasised in recent decades. Mr Fernandez has now added to that mix the practical concern of how it will be watered.
Writing in this newspaper on Sunday, he calculated that 17,000 homes would require around 15,000 cubic metres of water, of 3.22 million imperial gallons of water per day. And this doesn't include the water that would be required for industrial and other facilities in Mr Holness' city.
"This water demand cannot be met, neither from the alluvium aquifer nor the limestone aquifer of the Lower Rio Cobre Sub-basin, the water resources of which are both over-allocated," Mr Fernandez said.
In the Lower Rio-Cobre sub-basin, he explained, now tap its aquifer. There are another 33 sucking water from below the ground at Bernard Lodge. These already supply existing homes in the area, as well as irrigation, which, along with other technical problems has led to a declining water table. Indeed, Mr Fernandez explained that the WRA had received approval for the Bernard Lodge area to be declared an aquifer production zone and a halt to further construction atop to alluvium aquifer. That moratorium, it appears, is being reversed.
Maybe it is, as Mr Fernandez speculated, that to satisfy the Bernard Lodge city, wells that now irrigate farms will be diverted to the new urban centre, causing a further decline in groundwater levels, thereby increasing the potential "for seawater intrusion into the aquifer"
We would prefer not to speculate on this matter. It is urgent that Mr Holness brings transparency to the issue, including how; and on what basis land for the city has been or is being allocated; how much agricultural land will be displaced; the impact this will have on his plans to Jamaica's food security; and its implications for the hydrology of the area.