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Climate Change and Water: Wastewater advanced as one response to Jamaica’s water worries

Published:Wednesday | August 26, 2015 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
Chris Corbin

As Jamaica moves to answer the climate change threat to its freshwater security, wastewater has been advanced as a possible response - but only provided there can be a change in the outlook on the resource, together with appropriate management.

"It is an untapped opportunity with the potential to safeguard dwindling potable water supplies while providing opportunities for energy and nutrient recovery. However, for that role of wastewater to be fully realised, we have to change our perception and our attitudes towards wastewater management and treatment, and the use of treated wastewater in the region," said Christopher Corbin, programme officer for assessment and management of environmental pollution at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Caribbean Regional Coordination Unit (CAR/CRU).

"We have to look at and think of the wastewater treatment industry as one of primarily resource recovery and not only for getting rid of unwanted waste. We can promote and implement the use of treated wastewater in stages. Technologies exist to

convert wastewater into drinking water, but this requires strict standards and rigorous enforcement," he added.

Jamaicans have for several months been forced to bear the burden of water lock-offs due to unusually low rainfall levels - a feature of a changing climate and one that is not expected to improve with the years. This is with negative implications for the island's water resources.

"Changes in the amount of rainfall as well as its frequency and intensity determine the amount of water that will be available for exploitation. The changes to the amount of total rainfall that Jamaica may receive under the climate change scenarios are uncertain. However, even minor changes in Jamaica's rainfall patterns could have significant impacts on its water resources," said the Caribbean Regional Fund for Waste-water Management (CReW) project's 2013 'Baseline Assessment Study on Wastewater Management in Jamaica', which was revised this year.

The situation is one that has forced the water authorities to tighten up operations with a recent deal signed to address non-revenue water while additional reserves of freshwater are tapped into via the re-commissioning of wells and strategies are sought to get water from the north, where it is more abundantly available, to the south, where the majority of the population is settled.

ought to join that mix.

Corbin, also the officer in charge of communication, education, training and awareness at UNEPCRU, suggests that treated wastewater ought to join that mix.

The Jamaican Government does not seem averse.

"The Government encourages the re-use of treated wastewater where it is safe and economical. Wastewater that is properly treated at sewage treatment plants may be safe for activities such as irrigation and some industrial processes," states the draft Water Sector Policy and Implementation Plan now in the works.

Corbin, as have the head of the Water Resources Authority Basil Fernandez and others in the past, suggests a starting-point.

"We can begin by using treated wastewater for irrigation of lawns, golf courses and other non-edible crops and/or for use in industrial purposes instead of using our scarce drinking water supplies," he said.

At the same time, valuation studies done in Panama, Trinidad and Tobago under the CReW project could prove useful for Jamaica, once the findings are made public.

Only this past weekend, UNEP CAR/CRU held a workshop on the fringe of the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association Conference and Exhibition in Miami to share experiences from the development and application of the resource valuation methodology used in the studies.

dollars and cents.

"Traditional economic analyses tend to evaluate the cost of various wastewater investments and how best to recover those costs," said Corbin. "Many times the social benefits (e.g., improvements in health) and direct economic benefits (e.g., the ability to attract development) are not quantified. In addition, the value from the loss of our natural capital - in other words land, air, water, and living organisms which collectively contribute to key ecosystem services such as drinking water, fisheries, and tourism from poor wastewater management - are also not

quantified in dollars and cents."

Added the UNEP professional: "What we hope to achieve through the resource valuation workshop and exchange of experiences from the three pilots in Panama, Trinidad and in Tobago is to assist government and utility officials in preparing stronger financial proposals and business cases for wastewater investments. These would better quantify the economic, social and environmental benefits, but also present revenue earning opportunities from improved wastewater management."