Leanne Spence | Winning the water war
Jamaica is challenged with perpetual drought in some of our more densely populated areas not because of lack of water, but mainly because the majority of our population is not living near the supply source of our water, hence the necessity to transport, store, and treat our water.
Our storage capacity is insufficient to meet the demand for potable water whenever rainfall is infrequent in certain areas. This is likely to become an even greater challenge with climate change.
Our Government, and correctly so, has embarked on a major project to channel more water to our storage dams, thus increasing the supply. Notwithstanding, we, the users of water, need to do all we can such as managing our demand to improve our resilience to drought. There are two approaches we can adopt: water conservation and water efficiency.
Water conservation is an ethical decision to reduce water waste. It requires a behavioural change that has to develop into a habit and be practised by all users for there to be any serious impact on water availability.
Water efficiency is the use of fixtures or technologies that restrict water waste by measurement without depending on habit. Water-efficient fixtures deliberately reduce the amount of water required from our tanks and reservoirs, thus increasing our resilience to climate change and drought. In this way, we manage the demand for water, resulting in more water being available for use at another time.
Can we prevent a drought?
The short answer to the question of whether we can prevent a drought is no. While we cannot prevent droughts that are caused by lack of rainfall, we can manage our water resources in order to maximise efficiency of use and also storage capacity. These are two of the most effective ways of managing a drought. Drought usually has no predictable timeline, but given our country’s experience, we may be able to predict a timeline during which we will not have any significant rainfall.
Our country is rich in hydrologic resources and was among the first countries in the Western world to have piped water supply. Given the rainfall and abundant water resources, there is adequate water to meet demands. However, several issues result in water-supply problems in the drier parts of the island. These are:
a) Uneven population distribution and poorly maintained supporting infrastructure.
b) Land/water management.
c) Climate change-related decreases in, and unevenly distributed rainfall in Jamaica.
The country is heavily dependent on groundwater (approximately 60 per cent of the water supply), predominantly used for irrigation and agricultural purposes, leading to chronic shortages for domestic use, particularly for residents of the Corporate Area.
There are currently warnings from the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) and the National Water Commission (NWC) that the perennial declines in reservoir storage levels in the Corporate Area have reached crisis level, and the prevailing water restrictions are likely to worsen.
Ways to conserve water:
- Examine the property for leaks by checking all water connections. You can do a meter shut-off of all water-using equipment and after five minutes, check your meter. (Older meters will show dials or digits moving for leaks; newer meters will show a flow indicator reading greater than zero.) You can also use check individual fixtures, e.g., use leak-detection tablets in the toilets.
- Install lock-offs and non-return valves, especially where a water-storage tank is on the property. These devices ensure that you are able to lock off all water to your property in order to do repairs to leaks or to prevent water from the property from flowing out into the public mains.
- Take shorter showers.
- Install water-saving devices:
a. High-efficiency toilet units, using 1.28 gallons per flush or less.
b. Water-saving high-efficiency shower heads or restrictors.
c. Aerators fitted for kitchen and bathroom faucets.
In addition to reducing the amount of water used, these conservation measures will also increase savings as you will see a reduction in your water bill. Saving water is not the sole remit of the NWC, but is our collective responsibility. We play a role in water usage in our homes, offices, and in public spaces.
When you see a pipe that is gushing water on the side of the road, you have a duty to call the NWC and report it. When you see the pipe running in a public restroom, turn it off. There is now a restriction on using running water to wash cars and water lawns. Adhere to it. Remember that we all have a role to play in the conservation of water.
Every drop counts! Water is everyone’s business.
- Leanne Spence is a water-conservation specialist and co-founder and director of Instant Save Conservation Solutions Jamaica Ltd. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.