Sat | Dec 9, 2023

No assurances from NWA over MoBay flooding issues

Published:Saturday | February 18, 2023 | 12:05 AMMark Titus/Senior Gleaner Writer


THE NATIONAL Works Agency (NWA) says there is no guarantee that flooding will not recur in the city of Montego Bay, but is cautiously optimistic that should there be heavy rainfall, work done will contain the high volumes of water.

A leading tourist destination in the region, Montego Bay has been experiencing increased incidences of flooding over the past 20 years.

Last April an elderly woman and her grandchild were washed away by flood waters. The child's body was found in the vicinity of the Montego Bay wharf, but the body of the senior citizen who is presumed to have drowned was never recovered.

Flooding in Montego Bay often occurs after intense rainfall over a short period of time, but is made worse by the inadequate drainage infrastructure. However, Janel Ricketts, the state entity's communications officer for western Jamaica, said the unpredictability of the weather pattern, improperly disposed solid waste and changes caused by a raft of housing developments, are also key contributing factors.

“Poor garbage collection policies and practises do cause a challenge on the drainage network, but we have done our evaluation and our drainage system is properly maintained,” said Ricketts.

“We normally have a mitigation programme that comes on at the start of the rainy season, but what we have been doing over time is a number of projects to increase the capacity of our drainage system,” she told the news team.

Work was done late last year to address issues along the North Gully, one of four major water courses in the Montego Bay watershed, and ironically, the primary source of the flooding in the city. Six culverts were also installed along the Friendship to Hurlock stretch, where major housing developments are ongoing.

Last year, Dr Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, an environmental scientist and CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), pointed to choke points along sections of the gullies that restrict the flow of water, and result in subsequent flooding of the surrounding areas.

“These points are often made worse with washed-down sediments, garbage, and vegetation that further restrict water flow in the gullies,” She said, “The risks of the climate crisis are well known, but Jamaica's development practices remain unchanged.

“Informal settlements continue to flourish on the edge of gullies, housing developments are being approved and built in the upper catchments of these watersheds, garbage disposal is ad hoc, and garbage infrastructure and collection are inadequate,” Rodriguez-Moodie stated in her observations after touring the problem-plagued communities.

Civil engineer Kerry Thomas, who has served as project manager for several major development initiatives, under the previous political administration maintains that the entire drainage system throughout Greater Montego Bay needs immediate attention.

“Any development taking place in the offshore areas will cause an increase in volumes, so the channels need to be upgraded so the water can run off faster than it currently does,” Thomas said.

The Gleaner understands that a significant portion of the funds to construct the Montego Bay bypass is to fix the drainage issue in the popular tourist city, but Thomas said there is yet to be a comprehensive plan.

“The city has done nothing to fix the problem,” he said, “What they have done is allow more houses to be built to create more run-offs.”

However, Ricketts has rejected claims that poorly designed storm water drains and a haphazard approach to approving development projects are to be blamed for the Second City's perennial flooding woes, stating that the NWA has done all it can to prepare for the rainy season.

“We are ready for any eventualities, but while you can prepare as best as possible, it is difficult to foresee how an area will be impacted,” she said, “We did quite a bit of work and our technical team is at the heart of these decisions.”