Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Earth Today | Fresh water a key factor in future of ecological site

Published:Thursday | August 24, 2017 | 12:03 AM

With this summer's heat providing a glimpse of what a changing climate bodes for Jamaicans, environmental interests have again emphasised the need to take water security seriously in the longed-for decision on a boundary for the Cockpit Country.

"Water continues to be an important feature of the Cockpit Country and we should be asking whether bauxite mining will alter the climate of central-western Jamaica, especially rainfall patterns, and irreversibly alter the water storage and discharge characteristics of the watersheds served by the Cockpit Country. To this question, we definitely need to recognise the consequences if deep bauxite deposits are removed," said Dr Susan Koenig of the Windsor Research Centre (WRC).

Those considerations, Koenig said, include reduced storage capacity during the rainy seasons.

"That is, a higher discharge rate into rivers during the rainy season, which means potential flooding downstream and less water stored during the dry season; which means that rivers will have less water and some small streams could cease to flow altogether," she explained.

Cockpit Country, according to the 2010 Ecosystem Profile: The Caribbean Islands Biodiversity Hotspots, is "the source for fresh water used by 40 per cent of Jamaicans.

"And the area is essential in moderating the flow and preventing flooding of a number of western Jamaica's rivers," it added.

 

Extreme weather events

 

Climate change, which threatens warmer temperatures and extreme weather events, including droughts, has spotlight water as a critical issue for development planning in any country.

Beyond Koenig's statements, the WRC and the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) have put together a document itemising, as they see it, "issues regarding mining and impact on hydrogeology to guide decisions on bauxite mining in Jamaica's Cockpit Country".

They include blocked sinkholes and understanding complex subterranean connections.

"As noted in the hydrogeology investigation during the rehabilitation of the Mount Rosser mud lake, water discharge rates in river basins can shift dramatically during different rainfall conditions: normal conditions don't always predict what will occur during periods of extreme rainfall. In this case, it was speculated from dye tracing that there may be the occasional establishment of underground fast-flowing streams in the karst limestone system. Even the hydro-dynamics of the small area of Mount Rosser are not fully understood," it said.

There are also issues of management, JET and Windsor maintain.

"In the Jamaican context, any management measures need serious regulation and enforcement, which we simply do not have," they insisted.

It appears, that at least some aspects of their arguments are taking root.

Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett himself pointed to water as an essential feature in the boundary decision.

"The position of us in tourism, of course, is that the appropriate line which has to be drawn must also take into account the hydrological aspects in relation to the water resource areas and the watershed areas, and also protect the value of the karst topography that is such a key geophysical feature that has such great value for us as a destination," Bartlett told The Gleaner.

- P.W.R.