Sat | May 30, 2020

Peter Espeut | No wood, no water

Published:Friday | February 7, 2020 | 12:00 AM

Earlier this week, the National Water Commission (NWC) announced that, in anticipation of a long, hard drought, water rationing will be in force. My community had no water Sunday or Monday, and when I checked my sources, I was told that the water had been locked off. So I guess that we were, without advance notice, one of the first communities to experience the rationing.

A caring government would ensure that the schedule of lock-offs would be published well in advance to minimise dislocation and inconvenience.

What is new about this bout of water rationing is that both reservoirs that serve the Corporate Area are more than 80 per cent full.

What does this tell us? It tells me that our water storage infrastructure is inadequate – and that the government knows it; they know that as we enter the dry season, at normal rates of water usage, our reserves will soon fall to critical levels; so even while the reservoirs are almost full, water rationing has begun.

Due to advancing deforestation, over 100 rivers dried up on our little island in the 20th century. In my first column of the new millennium, I predicted that the big issue of the 21st century would be water. As population increases, we will need more clean water, yet, at the same time, we destroy our watersheds for fuel wood and charcoal and to build houses; and we advance the pollution of the little clean, freshwater we have left.

I predicted that if we did not do something soon to protect our water resources, and to increase capture and storage of clean domestic freshwater, we would no longer be either the land of wood or the land of water.

The facts speak for themselves: between the national censuses of 1921 and 1943, the population of Kingston and St Andrew (KSA) doubled, and to cope with the increased demand, in 1927 the colonial government built the Hermitage Dam (with a capacity of 460 million gallons).

Between the national censuses of 1943 and 1961, the population of KSA increased by 76 per cent, and in 1946 the colonial government built the Mona Reservoir (with a capacity of 825 million gallons).

Between the national censuses of 1961 and 2011 (the period since political independence), the population of KSA increased by 58 per cent, and yet the government of independent Jamaica has not increased water storage capacity. And as far as I know, none is planned.

I provided all the above data in my column in this newspaper of July 25, 2014; and I asked the question: “I invite you to predict where we will be in 2020!?”

Well, here we are: with water rationing starting in February.

Last year (2019), water rationing began in May. When will rationing begin in 2021?

It is egregious lack of planning like this that leads me to continually assert that we have wasted our years of Independence, mismanaging our economy and our natural environment.

I have not been satisfied just to criticise, but the suggestions I have made over the years in this column to improve our water situation have been ignored.

Let me reprise one of them.

The Hermitage Dam is a 150-ft high 700-ft wide concrete blockade across the upper Wag Water River valley which impounded 460 million gallons of water. There are similar valleys all over eastern Jamaica which could be similarly blockaded. If we could plan Highway 2000, we could plan WaterDam 2030!

At times of heavy rain, the dam becomes full, and the excess river water goes over the lip of the dam, down the spillway, and downstream towards the sea. This shows that if there was a larger storage area, the dam could hold more, making more water available in times of drought.

It seems to me that if we were to build another wall in front of the present Hermitage Dam, further down the valley, the storage capacity would be easily increased.

Simple mathematics shows that if a new dam wall was built 200 ft further down, it would hold at least an additional 160 million gallons. If the ground below the wall was excavated deeper, the capacity could be increased to become the same size as the Mona Reservoir.

NWC, please show me what is wrong with my reasoning!

Peter Espeut is a natural scientist and environmentalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com