Fri | Jun 5, 2020

Expert cites need for better water management

Published:Thursday | May 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Donovan Stanberry
Basil Fernandez

"Our biggest issue in respect to climate change is water use. We cannot carry out sustainable agriculture without reliable water supplies," Donovan Stanberry told Thursday's Gleaner Editors' Forum.

Consistency in crop and livestock production demands, among other things, a reliable water supply if Jamaica is to achieve and maintain gains in the drive to achieve food security, reduce its food import bill, and fully exploit export markets.

"So we have to use more efficient systems. We have to expand irrigation and we have to reduce our dependency on rainfall-fed agriculture," the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries said.

Basil Fernandez, managing director of the Water Resources Authority of Jamaica, in endorsing the need for better management of this precious resource, pointed to the failure of most Jamaicans to fully appreciate its importance to their daily lives.

In a separate interview, Fernandez said most Jamaicans, including journalists, fail to understand the significance of the annual observation of World Water Day by the international community.

"World Water Day is intended to raise the awareness of everybody globally, on the critical importance of water-resources management. Now that there is an increase in population, there is extra demand for water for social, economic and environmental needs. And this time of the year - especially in Jamaica, when we are in the dry season - people have become more acute when they don't have water," he told The Gleaner. "And what happens is that we, therefore, take it for granted when we have it, but we need to ensure that we conserve at all times, even in times of plenty."




Fernandez noted that while Jamaica has excess water, more than enough to meet its needs, the distribution of rainfall is skewed. The northern section of the island gets more showers while the greater demand is on the south side, which houses the largest urban centres, biggest irrigation areas, and major industries such as bauxite/alumina-generating plants, which use a lot of water.

This inequitable distribution of water makes conservation especially critical on the south side, which puts pressure on the National Water Commission (NWC) to ensure that its islandwide network of transmission pipelines operates at peak efficiency at all times. But alas, this is not happening, according to Fernandez.

"Even in transmission systems like the NWC has, the high non-revenue water (NRW) level is something that we have to deal with, and to reduce that level now, we cannot necessarily develop more resources, but we can use more efficiently the resources that we have. When we do audits of a lot of constituencies, for instance, we find that there is more than enough water going into these constituencies, but because of the high losses and the high NRW, people are not getting that water, and that is one of the major problems," the Water Resources Authority head explained.

He pointed to agriculture, which accounts for some 70 per cent of the water demand, as a sector which is guilty of wastage.