Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Faced with a multimillion-dollar bill to deliver potable water to residents of Mandeville and its environs, the National Water Commission (NWC) has told developers of new housing projects that they must implement special measures to deal with the issue.
The NWC is also looking to correct the long-standing problem of water shortage in the Manchester capital.
According to the NWC, as part of the compliance orders for new developments, on-site water storage tanks must be part of the plan.
David Geddes, vice-president for marketing and communications at the NWC, says the situation regarding Manchester and particularly the town of Mandeville has been discussed ad nauseam, but it comes right back to cost.
"We do have a plan for Manchester that will improve the water-supply situation. This is contained in our parish plans. But as it stands now, if every resident of Mandeville paid their water bill and paid it in full, our electricity costs would far exceed what we could collect from them. That is a fact," Geddes told The Sunday Gleaner.
NWC officials have long complained about the high cost of pumping potable water uphill to the residents Mandeville.
Although there are several wells in the parish, getting water to the residents is dependent on power from the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) to power the motors of pumps over Spur Tree hill to Winston Jones Highway and Knockpatrick.
According to Geddes, the last estimate the commission has is that "the average monthly collection for the parish is approximately $40 million, while it is costing in excess of $70 million to keep the pipes with water".
Given what the entity is able to collect, the cost to the NWC to supply water to Mandeville is heavily subsidised.
"It cost almost twice what we could collect from them to provide them with water. It's certainly about $30 million more than what they could pay. So somewhere along the line, it is being subsidised," Geddes reiterated.
The NWC reported an estimated loss of $3.6 billion for the 2009-2010 financial year, with that number expected to be reduced to $51 million for the 2010-2011 period.
Already some frustrated homeowners in Mandeville have bypassed the NWC as their main water source and have returned to the centuries-old practice of storing water in catchment tanks.
Knockpatrick resident Everton Swaby said a number of residents with houses built in the last 10 years are relying only on water from tanks.
"I have been here for the last five years and I only have water that is in my tanks. I haven't even connected to the road pipeline because there is just no water," Swaby told The Sunday Gleaner.
Swaby has an underground tank and a concrete air tank. A pump is used to put water in the overhead tank from which the house is supplied.
The NWC has no problem with that set-up.
"We do encourage (storage tanks) as part of process when they (homeowners) apply for water before we give a non-objection. We are not against that. Several times when we give a certificate of approval for a development, whether one house of two houses, or 100 houses, usually we insist that there is storage capacity on the property," stated Geddes.
He noted that it is up to the residents to decide where the tanks are placed.
"We just say that there must be storage capacity, it doesn't matter where they want to put it. We just say they must have storage capacity. We do a lot for individuals, and it's a given for larger developments," Geddes.
According to Geddes, the NWC has a development plan for all parishes.
"We have a plan, and when the plan is rolled out, what will happen is that increasing numbers of areas will have water. We will be able to provide a steady supply of water, pumping from Spur Tree, because wells are there. There is a specific plan for the town of Mandeville and the parish as a whole."