RJRGLEANER Honour Awards 2019 | 47 years as Jamaica’s ‘water man’
Recipient: Basil Fernandez
Category: Science and Technology
Former managing director of the Water Resources Authority (WRA), Basil Fernandez, has given over 47 years of distinguished service to the public sector in Jamaica, and has worked in the water resources field for all those years.
He is a man with a prodigious memory, who seldom speaks of himself and his achievements, but continues to command the respect of his peers and the many people whose lives he has touched.
The man who knows the location of almost every well of significance in Jamaica, continues to serve, and is an example of where dedication to service can lead.
Fernandez began working in the field of water resources in December 1968, as a geological assistant, at what was then the Water Resources Division of the Geological Survey Department. This division was responsible for establishing a hydrologic/hydro-geologic programme across Jamaica, to assess the island’s water resources.
“I really don’t think I chose the career. I think the career chose me,” Fernandez said.
“Water resource management is a special kind of career. There are not many of us around and many of us have migrated. I have always been interested in the adaptation of geology and early in my career I recognised the need to have good water resource management. Without water we cannot do anything at all.”
The quality of his work was of such a high standard, that he was described as possessing outstanding ability, practical knowledge, intelligence and a sense of responsibility in the field.
Fernandez was promoted to assistant hydrogeologist in 1975, where he assumed responsibility for organising and directing the activities undertaken in the data section of the groundwater branch. He established, and assisted in carrying out, monitoring programmes for the data collection section, which entailed the processing, collating, and storage of all information and records channelled through the branch.
Additionally, he undertook preparation of reports on special research projects, and carried out hydrogeological reconnaissance.
ACCURATE AND RELIABLE INFORMATION
“When I started at Water Resources, there was no information at all. I had to go around all the drilling companies, collect information and create the data base that we needed to understand the water resources in Jamaica. This was done to ensure that we could give reliable advice to the government, based on science, not guess work,” Fernandez said.
“I feel very strongly about the need for accurate and reliable information. I also strongly believe in sharing information with the public to let them understand the importance of water resources management. Water is very critical to life and having a reliable and good quality water supply is even more important for health, sanitation, agriculture, industry and all different aspects of life.”
Fernandez earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Geology from the University of the West Indies in 1979, and coupled with competence, hard work, and experience, this subsequently resulted in his promotion to the post of hydro-geologist. In 1980 to 1981, he was awarded a scholarship to do post graduate studies in Water Resources Management and Engineering at the Israeli Institute of Technology (Technion).
Through his dedication, he rose through the ranks of the Water Resources Division, by hard work and application, and was duly appointed to serve as acting deputy director in 1984, before being promoted to director of the Data and Resources Monitoring Division two years later.
In this substantive post, Fernandez planned, organised and had overall responsibility for the activities of the Groundwater and Drilling Units, which entailed compilation and preparation of technical reports on the feasibility of water resource projects.
He also sited, designed, and tested wells; trained junior staff in analytical methods, techniques, and interpretation of results; provided advice and information to the public and private sectors; and acted as technical advisor to the board of the then Underground Water Authority (UWA), formerly the Water Resources Division.
In 1992, Fernandez was promoted to the position of deputy managing director of the UWA, and when the organisation’s name was subsequently changed to the Water Resources Authority (WRA) in 1995, he was appointed managing director of the new entity. The WRA was established, consequent on the promulgation of the Water Resources Act of 1995, which Fernandez was integrally involved in drafting, as well as getting passed through Parliament, and into law.
The major activities of the WRA included hydrologic data collection, compilation, and analysis; water resources investigation, assessment, and planning; water resources allocation; and environmental monitoring and impact assessment. The WRA routinely monitors river flows at 133 gauging stations, and groundwater at 1,802 sites across the island.
It has a database of quality-checked data, stored in computerised format dating back to the 1950s. Projects, such as the Rio Cobre Dam Reconstruction, benefitted greatly from the use of this database. Rational water allocation was formally facilitated by the issuing of licences for groundwater abstraction.
“My job was interesting. If I didn’t love what I did, I wouldn’t have done it for all those years. I don’t think there is any backroad in Jamaica that I don’t know. I know people in every district to the point that they call me ‘water man’,” Fernandez said.
“You also get to learn a lot of things, not just about water resources but Jamaica in general – just going out there in the field, drilling wells, testing wells, some of which are being used for water supply and irrigation in St. Elizabeth, Clarendon, parts of St. Ann and other parts of the island even today.”
Since the enactment of the Water Resources Act of 1995, entities abstracting surface water have been required to obtain licences. The Act gives to the WRA the responsibility for planning the orderly development and equitable allocation of water resources, including the analysis of alternative methods of developing and supplying water.
Fernandez has been bestowed with a Gold Award by the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association (CWWA) for meritorious service and outstanding contribution to that sector, and other entities have recognised the work done by this Jamaican stalwart, over his years of service to the water sector.
“I have been all over the world and I have done a lot of things. However, there are two things I would like to do. I would like to go on a river cruise in Europe and the Rocky Mountaineer Train Tours in Vancouver, Canada. I have been on the ride before in the 1960s on a cadet exchange so, of course, things have changed since then,” he said.
* Basil Fernandez has worked in the water resources field for most of his life and knows the location of almost every well of significance in Jamaica.
* He had overall responsibility for the activities of the Groundwater and Drilling Units, which entailed compilation and preparation of technical reports on the feasibility of water resource projects.
* His work led to the water sector now being in a better position to effectively manage the resource, with prioritised areas of interest and clearly defined functions.
* Basil Fernandez championed the passage of the Water Resources Act (1995), which resulted in the sector, for the first time, being fully regulated.
* The Act also saw the establishment of the Water Resources Authority (WRA) and proved an important chapter in the development of Jamaica’s water resources sector.
* WRA’s web map, which is the first fully accessible hydrological database in the region, makes available to the general public all the hydrological data collected by the authority.
* Fernandez got the Gold Award by the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association for meritorious service and outstanding contribution to that sector and other entities.
* Basil Fernandez wants to take a river cruise in Europe.
* He also intends to embark on the Rocky Mountaineer Train Tours in Vancouver, Canada.