Thu | Nov 15, 2018

Poor planning leads to water crisis

Published:Saturday | September 6, 2014 | 12:00 AM


Given the seriousness of the drought conditions affecting water supply in Kingston (and parts of the south coast of the island), the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) made an Access to Information request to the Water Resources Authority (WRA) to assess the state of the National Water Commission (NWC) wells supplying the Kingston Metro-politan Area from ground water sources. The following is what we found:

There are 10 operational wells in Kingston and St Andrew, although some are only used in drought conditions due to the high cost of pumping. Of these, only two are uncontaminated by either nitrates or saline intrusion - these are at Chancery Hall and Havendale. Water from wells degraded by nitrates are used for drinking purposes, by mixing and diluting with uncontaminated water to reduce the nitrate concentrations to acceptable levels before distribution to consumers.

low yields

Ten other wells were drilled at various points in time in the area, some in response to drought conditions, and proved to either be too badly contaminated or with very low yields, and were therefore abandoned.

Wells have also been damaged by vandalism, theft of scrap metal, filling in by development or idle throwing of materials into the wells.

The risk of contamination of the source of water for Kingston's wells was identified in the 1960s, and the increasing deterioration of underground water was described in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The reasons for the decline in water quality were - contamination from soakaway pits or other forms of sewage treatment, increased population density and, therefore, human waste, and overpumping of wells near to the coast leading to saline intrusion. Moreover, flushing of the aquifer (ground water) to dilute contaminants was not possible due to reduced recharge as a result of significant increases in non permeable surfaces such as roads, roofs and car parks, which cause water to run off into the sea instead of percolating underground.

Simply put, Kingston's current water crisis is due to egregious failures of foresight, planning, development control and management.

Diana McCaulay

Chief Executive Officer

Jamaica Environment Trust