The worsening drought — let's conserve, conserve, conserve!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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WATER and Climate Change Minister Robert Pickersgill's announcement Sunday night that the drought currently affecting the island will not ease soon, is a worrying thought.

According to Minister Pickersgill in his national broadcast, "the El Nino weather phenomenon that is currently affecting our weather pattern is projected to continue and will result in no significant increase of rainfall even during the next rainy season, which is from October to November".

Place that on top of the sparse rainfall, Jamaica has received over the past few months and one gets a picture of the severity of our problem.

According to the data revealed by Minister Pickersgill, in May, Clarendon received only 27 per cent of the 30-year normal rainfall, while Manchester, St Mary, Portland, and St Thomas all received significantly less than the 30-year normal rainfall.

Preliminary figures for June indicate that Jamaica received only 30 per cent of its normal rainfall, and all parishes - with the exception of sections of Westmoreland (54 per cent) - were in receipt of less than 50 per cent of normal rainfall.

Clarendon, Minister Pickersgill told us, received only two per cent of its normal rainfall, followed by Manchester, four per cent; St Thomas, six per cent; St Mary, eight per cent; and Kingston and St Andrew, 12 per cent of their 30-year normal rainfall.

The upshot is that the inflows from springs and rivers into several of the country's catchment facilities have been reduced significantly.

For instance, the minister revealed that "inflows into the Mona Reservoir from the Yallahs and Negro rivers are now at 4.8 million gallons per day, which is among the lowest since the construction of the Yallahs Pipeline in 1986".

He added that, as it now stands, we are receiving no inflows from the Hope River, because it is dry.

"Inflows into the Hermitage Dam currently stand at six million gallons per day, down from more than 18 million gallons per day during the wet season," the minister told us.

In addition, of the National Water Commission's (NWC) 460 supply systems islandwide, 120 are affected by the drought, while many parish council water systems have either declined considerably or have dried up entirely.

That is, to put it mildly, certainly not encouraging news and should give every Jamaican reason to respond positively to the Government and the NWC's appeal to conserve water.

The water authorities, Minister Pickersgill said, had initiated a number of measures to limit the effects of the drought. On paper those measures appear to be reasonable and we hope they will be effective.

Certainly, however, we are encouraged by Mr Pickersgill's announcement that rainwater harvesting policy guidelines are being prepared by his ministry.

These guidelines, he said, will become "an integral consideration in the planning approval process".

This is something that we have consistently advocated in this space for years, because drought is not a new condition. Certainly over the past three years, at least, the country has experienced severe dry spells.

What we need to do is prepare ourselves for it and ensure that we manage our water resources effectively, because we don't get the feeling that the NWC is succeeding in that area.




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