Sat | Jul 20, 2019

Orville Taylor | Water whoa!

Published:Wednesday | July 10, 2019 | 12:23 AM

Wastewater is one of the dirtiest words in the English language. Not because of the lumps of human by-products heading into a sewerage or other system. Rather, we are so lax, treatment of our water resources is slowly charting the path towards destruction.

Funny, humans are around 65 per cent water, comprising 80 per cent of the lungs and 75 per cent of the heart and brain. Here is the key: When one is dishonest and unwilling to look at things for what they are, we say that they need to wash their hearts. Similarly, when one is losing cognitive capacity, one is said to ‘have water on the brain’.

Signs are ominous. There is a global environmental crisis and from terrorist groups. And no, it has nothing to do with OPEC as a supplier of oil. Oil is not essential to our living on this little piece of saltwater-covered rock.

True, mankind had been using fossil fuels for centuries since the Chinese defied logic and drilled 200 metres deep bamboo holes, using the oil to distil salt from water — a non-essential element used to produce two indispensable preconditions for life. Nonetheless, for the longest part of human history, we did not use petroleum products.

However, the very same water that was used by Adam and Eve and the dinosaurs is the same that we are using to bathe, drink, wash and waste today. Whether or not we believe the Noah flood to be a literal covering of the earth, that water did not just disappear and go back up into a spaceship. It is either in the atmosphere as vapour, under the ground in aquifers, in lakes and rivers on the surface or covering 70 per cent of the globe as oceans and seas. There is no new water on earth.

If you think oil is rare, here is a non-negotiable reality ‘cheque’. Oceans and seas comprise 97 per cent of all water on the planet. Around two per cent of the world’s freshwater is contained in glaciers and the polar ice caps. Rarer than truth among politicians, freshwater constitutes less than one per cent of global water supply.

On an island where we only have 11,000 square kilometres of living space and 27 per cent of our land being arable, we face the daunting prospect of rising sea levels, reduced rainfalls in traditional watershed areas, contamination of our aquifers from encroaching subterranean saline water, deforestation and from ‘naasy’ residents, who keep dumping all and sundry into our rivers, gullies and dishonestly using our water supplies.

Thankfully, unlike many nations, we have no history of our domestic water supply being gravely contaminated. Indeed, for all our experience with droughts, we have never had a population dying of thirst.

Between the National Water Commission (NWC), Water Resources Authority (WRA) and National Irrigation Commission (NIC), water will move from the Rio Cobre and Black River to fill demand, especially in the agricultural belts.

Consistent delivery needed

Dam if they do, but damn better if they don’t. What is needed is more consistent delivery and storage of water, not new reservoirs.

Two weeks ago, we experienced the hottest day ever recorded in Jamaica.

For the foreseeable future, lakes, rivers, dams and reservoirs will see water disappear faster than a ‘bills’ in the hand of a crack head.

Still, the solution is not high tech, but ‘I tek’ responsibility. Although at 60 per cent water, some men fit the adjective, there is no such thing as ‘waste’water. We must reuse, reclaim and reduce storm water for other purposes.

Believe me, the sweet pumpkin doesn’t know that someone else used the water to ‘tidy’. Burn fires only on corruption and not in forests.

But that is only part of the solution. Apart from the little people who cheat the system via illegal connections, many entities with ‘bigger connections’ use more water than their contracts with WRA allow them to.

Short-term profit is long-term disaster for everyone. Water belongs to us all. Every drop is precious.

Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.