Fri | Oct 19, 2018

All is not ‘WELL’ as NWC hunts more water

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2015 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams
Water minister Robert Pickersgill (right), listens to director, Jamaica Wells and Services Limited, Richard Simpson during a tour of the Ballater Avenue well in Kingston following the official commissioning of the well into service last year.

Plans by the National Water Commission (NWC) to reactivate several of its unused wells, as part of short-term measures to alleviate the impact of the prevailing drought, could be stymied by the state of these facilities.

Last week, Water Minister Robert Pickersgill said reactivating the wells could be a viable option to providing additional water, given the critically low levels in reservoirs serving various communities.

Pickersgill noted that this alternative has already been tried and proven successful, with the treatment of water in the Ballater Avenue well in St Andrew, owned by Tallawah Investments, using the de-nitrification and chlorination process.

"Based on the success of this private-public partnership, the NWC is positioning itself to encourage more private-sector investment in the water sector. To this end, expressions of interest have already been invited," added Pickersgill during a media briefing.

While underscoring his determination to push through the plan to reactivate the wells, acting president of the NWC, Mark Barnett, told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Wednesday that the high level of nitrate from sewage found in some wells would pose a challenge.

Barnett noted that the main source of the nitrate contamination is soakaway toilet pits and waste waters. He said the situation is compounded by the proliferation of hillside informal communities.

"That has been the result of the poor planning that exists over the years ... we allow people to build and live anywhere, not recognising that there are unplanned situations that are going to have a negative impact in the long run. This is what we are now reaping," said Barnett.

He told Gleaner editors and reporters that the nitrate level in some areas is well above the World Health Organisation's guidelines.

There are nine functioning wells in the Corporate Area and, according to Barnett, the abandonment of the polluted ones has led to a reduction in the amount of water that the NWC can supply to homes and businesses.

"That has affected our resources," said Barnett as he revealed that some wells have been abandoned for more than 20 years.

And with the water crisis not abating any time soon, Barnett said activating the wells is an immediate opportunity.

"It's not an if, but or maybe. They will be pursued to the end to make a determination as to how we complement our water resources, especially during the dry months," said Barnett.

According to the acting NWC head, the wells that will be pursued immediately are located at Rennock Lodge, Montgomery Corner, Hampstead, Cockburn Pen, and Trench Town. These wells could provide the NWC with approximately five million gallons of additional water per day to augment existing supplies

He said the pursuit does not mean certain nor immediate rehabilitation, but perhaps new drilling, depending on the outcome of investigations.

Barnett was supported by Basil Fernandez, who also endorsed the reactivation of the wells.

However, Fernandez, the managing director of the Water Resources Authority, pointed out that the entire underground water supply in the Liguanea (Plain) area is polluted by nitrate, especially south of Cross Roads and Half-Way Tree.

"Even though we may not think so, there is underground flow," said Fernandez, "right to Kingston Harbour, where the nitrate level is high."

The NWC has given private-sector entities until Tuesday to express an interest in reactivating the abandoned wells or drilling new ones. However, the cost to remove the nitrate could make this an expensive venture.