NWC network under stress
Jermaine Francis, Staff Reporter
THE NATIONAL Water Commission's (NWC) facilities are being plagued by persistent leaks, which it says will only be solved with the implementation of new infrastructure.
With more than 3,000 leaks being fixed monthly, and no guarantee they will remain intact, the problem is even more acute now that the country is feeling the effects of a prolonged period of drought, which experts say will continue until close to year end.
Charles Buchanan, public relations manager at the NWC, told The Gleaner the challenges facing the state entity goes beyond just inadequate rainfall or the lack of facilities to harvest such.
Age, pilfering and continuous pressure on its systems have caused the NWC's network to be losing "far too much water and resources in an attempt to fix leaks".
Buchanan said the commission is being forced to spend its limited resources on the large number of leaks to its system, and this is largely due to the age of the infrastructure.
"It's not that the commission is not doing anything about them, but the leaks are occasioned by the age of the network ... . On a normal average month, not during drought, we fix on average 3,500 leaks every month," Buchanan said.
He added that the problem becomes an even more difficult one to solve, as even after fixing thousands of leaks across the island each month, there are still more being carried over.
The NWC spokesman also explained that some of these leaks would quickly reopen after they were fixed because of the water pressure.
This is perhaps the case with a major leak on Spanish Town Road, which residents said was fixed last week and has reopened a week after.
The leak on this pipeline has caused gallons of water to go to waste and there are several reports across the country of similar leaks that are allowed to continue for days.
Buchanan noted that this is largely because of the age of the NWC's infrastructure and the conditions under which they are being made to work.
"Large sections of our network are very old and, therefore, what we need, and we have been saying for sometime, is not so much more leak repairs but we need mains replacement," Buchanan said.
He said the plumbers have explained they would fix a leak at a point on a given day and within a few days the pressure going through the pipes would open a next leak not too far off that section of the network.
He noted that more than 10,000 kilometres of old pipelines have been identified islandwide.
The NWC also complains that its pipes and other facilities are being stolen. "You also have the high incidents of theft, which in itself poses a risk to the network and increases the frequency of leaks and breaks," he noted.
The NWC has long complained that thieves have been targeting their pipelines and other facilities for metals.
But these are not the only challenges causing the NWC network to have such overwhelming number of leaks.
Buchanan explained that some of the strategies employed by the commission during periods of drought, to ensure citizens can access piped water are also putting a strain on the pipelines.
He said the water lock-offs at some points and the redistribution of water supply in some areas serve to put added pressure on the network and often help to create leaks.
As a result, Buchanan said, ironically, the NWC's network is more susceptible to leaks during periods of drought.
"During droughts the frequency of leaks go up and this is when we can least afford it. Because this is when you need all the water you can," he stated.
Water Minister Robert Pickersgill is expected to make a national broadcast tomorrow, as the authorities continue to battle the dry spell which has gripped Jamaica.