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EDITORIAL- Charge drought premium for water

Published:Thursday | February 11, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Given Jamaica's long, unseasonal and continuing drought, it is understandable that the National Water Commission (NWC), the state-owned company that produces and delivers piped, potable water, has stepped up what is labelled a conservation programme.

This, of course, is not primarily about ensuring the taps at the NWC's offices are properly turned off, or sloganeering to staff, and the rest of us; it is about the wisdom of not wasting water, although these are part of the strategy.

More fundamentally, what the NWC has done is to limit, on a staggered basis, its supply of water to customers, hoping to conserve on what is now a scarce commodity.

Common practice

Such programmes, of course, are neither new nor novel to the NWC. They are common among water-supply companies in times of scarcity. We suppose they work to a fashion. No data, however, is immediately available to determine the efficacy of water lock-offs.

We suspect, however, that there is a more efficient way of ensuring a more rational use of water in periods such as now being faced by Jamaica: by resorting to the forces of the market. People are more likely to conserve when they feel the impact of squander and waste in their pocketbooks.

Our suggestion, therefore, is for the NWC, with the support and backing of the Office of Utilities Regulation, to explore a strategy of differential pricing of water during periods of drought. In our view, the current approach, especially with regard to domestic users, removes the responsibility for conservation from consumers.

No real incentive

As it now stands, the consumer pays J$225.74 per 1,000 gallons of water for the first 3,000 gallons used each month. For the next 3,000 gallons the cost is $397.98 per 1000 gallons, and so on. The existing sliding scale does not take into account supply-and-demand factors.

So, once the NWC fires up the neighbourhood taps, the customer can consume as much water as he wishes without having to pay a premium for the supply. There is no real incentive, for instance, to fix the leaky pipes or draining faucets.

Of course, there are other fundamental issues to be addressed on the economic pricing of water to ensure the universality of domestic piped supply and the efficiency of its use. But for now we can can start with the drought premium.

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