Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
RECYCLED WATER from the Soapberry treatment plant in St Catherine could soon find its way into pipes en route to people's premises.
But Basil Fernandez, managing director of the Water Resources Authority of Jamaica, says it is unlikely that this water would be used for drinking.
"We are not thinking of it for drinking purposes. We are thinking about it for irrigation purposes as a trade-off for taking some of the fresh water that is now used for irrigation, substituting that with Soapberry water," Fernandez told The Gleaner.
The issue of recycling water from the Soapberry plant was raised in the House of Representatives last week by Delroy Chuck, the leader of opposition business.
"Recycled water is as pure as any water," Chuck said.
But his suggestion was rebuffed by his opposition colleague Everald Warmington, who urged him to sit down.
"What is wrong with you? Sometimes you don't have to talk," Warmington said.
At the same time, government member Natalie Neita Headley, with a quizzical look on her face, remarked, "To do what?", as Chuck preached the recycled water, doctrine.
Water Minister Robert Pickersgill had just made a presentation to the House about drought conditions when Chuck rose to his feet and enquired about the plans to harvest the recycled water from the Soapberry treatment plant.
"Nothing in your presentation suggests that the ministry is even contemplating the recycling of water. People might find this disgusting, but I must say, Soapberry has enough water. If it is recycled, most of St Catherine and Kingston would have no problem," Chuck said.
He added: "There are many countries in the world where recycling is probably the purest water."
For his part, Pickersgill sided with Chuck, saying, "Waste is a thing of the past and we better understand that."
"Waste is now a resource," Pickersgill said, adding that "the country has to be educated."
"The water that is coming out of Soapberry is a better quality than is in the Rio Cobre," Pickersgill said.
The Soapberry facility is located south of Mandela Highway in St Catherine. It consists of a series of ponds in which raw sewage from Kingston is oxidised, resulting in solid matter settling to the bottom and clear treated water flowing to the sea.
Fernandez told The Gleaner, "It is a resource that we are now discharging at the mouth of the Rio Cobre and out into the Kingston Harbour, and I think it needs to be removed and used."
He added: "It is done worldwide, and we can't afford to continue wasting it."
Fernandez also said there were plans afoot to utilise the recycled water from the treatment plant for irrigation purposes on the plains of St Catherine.
Need for additional water
He noted that with the Pan Caribbean sugar company set to increase sugar production in the Bernard Lodge area of St Catherine, there would be need for additional water.
"It is possible that you could trade off Soapberry water for fresh water that is now being used for irrigation but can be used for domestic purposes," Fernandez said.
He said that if the recycled water went into agriculture, it would mean that more water could be taken from the Rio Cobre for agricultural purposes.
"If Soapberry water is treated to the right quality, you can reduce your input of inorganic fertiliser because the water from Soapberry should have some nutrients in there that will allow you to replace those inorganic fertilisers," Fernandez told The Gleaner.
He said moving to use recycled water in agriculture was one of the strategies being pursued in order to adapt to climate change
If recycled water were used in agriculture, the head of the island's irrigation agency said, it would not be used on leafy crops such as callaloo and lettuce.
Fernandez also said the capacity existed at the Soapberry plant to ensure a high water quality. He said, however, that there was work to be done at the plant to guarantee high standards.
"There are some illegal inputs of industrial effluent going into the system that need to be removed, and once that is done, the plant should operate very efficiently," Fernandez said.