Tue | Feb 18, 2020

Jamaica still land of wood and water but still challenges

Published:Tuesday | March 14, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Peter Clarke (third left), deputy managing director of the Water Resources Authority (WRA), speaks about the importance of managing surface water provided by sources such as the Yallahs River during a visit to the watershed areas on Thursday. Also sharing in the occasion are: Jason Oliphant, National Water Commission’s watershed supervisor for Kingston, St Andrew, St Thomas and St Catherine; his colleague Vernal Shand, caretaker for the Negro River and Yallahs River intake facilities; and Nesla English-Johnson, project manager.
The Negro River in St Thomas is a major source of water.
The National Water Commission’s Negro River intake and settling facility in St Thomas.

Jamaica does not have a shortage of water, despite the drought in 2015 that saw a decline in agricultural production, according to Peter Clarke, deputy managing director of the Water Resources Authority.

"In terms of water supply, it is the Water Resources Authority's (WRA) opinion that Jamaica is still the land of wood and water," he told The Gleaner after Thursday's media tour of the Yallahs and Hope River watershed areas. "What we need to recognise is that the abundance of our water resources resides underground, and there is an abundance, because if you put all rivers together, there is six times that amount of water underground."

The tour, which was organised by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), was aimed at providing some insight into the five-year 'Integrated Management of the Yallahs and Hope River Watershed Management Project' funded jointly by the Global Environment Facility, Inter-American Development Bank and the Government of Jamaica.

The project targets some 120 farmers whose cultivation and income-generation practices have the potential to impact the watershed areas fed by these two rivers. The communities are: Content Gap (Hope River), Westphalia (Hope River), Windsor Castle (Yallahs River), and Penlyne Castle (Yallahs River).




Clarke went on to explain that the majority of Jamaica's domestic water supply comes from surface sources such as the Rio Cobre, Rio Grande, Wag Water River, Hope River and Yallahs River, which are further strained to meet the additional demand for irrigation water to supply the agriculture sector.

"What we have is a water-supply and -distribution problem, because the water is underground for sure. There are issues with management, and that is why we exist, to better allocate and distribute, because there is a production issue, and a system's issue because a lot of the pipes that bring in the water to the communities are old pipes that have been underground for the last 40, 50, 80 to a hundred years," he stated.

... Abundant water not necessarily potable

Project manager Nesla English-Johnson, is noting that although Jamaica may be blessed with an abundance of water, that might not necessarily translate into potable water.

"Climate change is coming into being now, so we are trying to be proactive in how we are planning to deal with the effects of climate change, because if we don't fix the land husbandry practices, the more degraded the area gets, the quality of water will be affected. It might not necessarily be the amount of water, because we might still have lots of water but it is not in a good enough quantity that it can be utilised," she said.

"So the work that we are doing with the farmers is a quality issue that we are trying to fix because, yes, we have lots of wells in Kingston, but they have all been abandoned because they have been contaminated - whether by salt water or by sewage, or whatever else is happening."

For the WRA deputy managing director, Peter Clarke, the five-year 'Integrated Management of the Yallahs and Hope River Watershed Management Project' now under way is timely and absolutely necessary.

"You would be foolhardy not to be safeguarding watersheds at any time, no matter how much water you think you have. So, yes, there is always need to safeguard the watersheds," he said.