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EDITORIAL - Discuss recycled water seriously

Published:Wednesday | January 30, 2013 | 12:00 AM

We understand the stink raised by a handful of parliamentarians over the idea that water, recycled from sewage systems, is suitable for drinking.

Good science, of course, has long since proved that it is. And there are many people around the world, in developed countries, who are the happier for it.

Scientific ignorance notwithstanding, we would be surprised, however, if there was much less vehemence against the idea if people were told that recycled water would be used for irrigation - as Mr Basil Fernandez, the head of the Water Resources Authority, says could soon be the case.

Such a move would make sense, given Jamaica's serious water-management problem. We do not store enough of the stuff, and much of what we catch and process goes to waste.

Indeed, according the Government's National Water Commission (NWC), nearly 70 per cent of the water it treats and puts into its system for delivery to consumers is not paid for. That is around 140 billion gallons a year.

The larger part of the problem is that most of the NWC's water-delivery infrastructure is old and leaky. Then there is theft and the 'social' water, which the Government delivers to communities. That is, free water.

Additionally, the NWC has not had the financial ability to build storage capacity to keep pace with increasing demand. It is unlikely to be able to do so any time soon.

These constraints, in part, reflect themselves in the water shortages periodically faced by consumers, during droughts. There is a mismatch of storage/delivery capacity and demand.

In such a circumstance, it is unthinkable that there would be any serious proposal for a major use of potable water for irrigation. Add to this the fact that the government agency that manages irrigation water lacks, like the NWC, the financial capacity to upgrade its systems to adequately exploit and deliver sufficient water to support agricultural production.

All this, of course, makes the job, which Mr Fernandez has, of managing the country's water resources more challenging.


In the circumstance, we would expect that Mr Fernandez, and his superior, the water and environment minister, Robert Pickersgill, would interpret their roles in the broadest terms. This would include seeing as under their control and management water from all sources, meaning that recycled water would fall in their purview.

We are inclined to believe that this is how they interpret their mandates. Unfortunately, we have, over a long time, seen little that is concrete or creative in the use of recycled water. There, however, has been much talk, over many years, about it.

Hopefully, now that the matter has again been placed on the agenda, something will happen. Mr Fernandez has talked about the need for irrigation in the St Catherine plains to support the cultivation of sugar cane, in keeping with the expansion plans of the new Chinese owners of the larger portion of the industry.

The Soapberry sewage facility is strategically placed to contribute to this irrigation. As Mr Fernandez suggested, there could be a trade-off of the Soapberry recycled water for the potable water now used for the irrigation of sugar cane fields.

Let's get on with it. This requires serious discussion beyond juvenile faecal humour.

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