HUGE WATER PLAN

Charles Jnr insists that water technology will be a game changer Charles Jr goes after desalination technology; liquid extracted from the atmosphere among major tech project

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 10, 2019

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THERE is a major thrust by the State's point man to ease Jamaica's chronic water shortage and distribution challenges by looking at water technology never before used in this north Caribbean island to finally quench the thirst of the millions.

Talks are ongoing with a view to introducing the system of desalination, as a secondary source of water supply, as well as pursuing the harvesting of water from the atmosphere, which would significantly reduce, or eliminate, consistent cries of “we want justice”, often used by community residents who sometimes resort to blocking roads and mounting protests when they cannot access the item.

Desalination, as described simply by the Concise Oxford Dictionary is to “remove salt from seawater”. The technology has been utilised in many countries around the world, some as near as the Caribbean, but cost considerations by Jamaican technocrats and policymakers have reduced any such plans previous to mere boardroom wishes.

Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Senator Pearnel Charles Jr, in a wide-ranging interview with the Jamaica Observer last week, spoke highly of the work now being done by his ministry with respect to addressing the issues of water, housing, and infrastructure, which fall directly in his lap of Cabinet responsibilities.

Should the implementation of the desalination system become reality in the medium term, as Charles is hoping, would it be a simple procedure of extracting water from the sea, filtering the salt and sending it to the water storage facilities?

“No. It doesn't have to be that way, because our dams are getting water from the rivers in the east and the desalination could be placed, depending on the size of it, in specific areas. The benefit of the technology as it is now is that it presents opportunities to create small water treatment plants, small or large desalination plants. I am waiting to hear more before I get into specifics,” said Charles Jr, who revealed that plans for a submission to Cabinet are at the preliminary stage but will be done soon.

“We are going to have to diversify our system, using other forms of technology that allow for you to use what God has given you. Right now, we are moving into a space where we are going to be moving to a desalination project … not talked about in Jamaica before because of the cost. We have to talk about it now, even if it is at a higher cost. The discussions have started,” the minister stated.

“I have met with one of our international partners looking at the possibility of a pilot programme which will see a particular type of desalination equipment which, they have assured me, relies on much less electricity, because when I did the research on why The Bahamas can use it and why we don't, it's because they have to. So most places that use desalination is not because they choose to, but because they have to, because the electricity cost is so high. So the Government ends up providing a subsidy, otherwise, if you do it here the consumers would see their bills skyrocket by almost 10 times. We can't afford that. So if we are going to use desalination, we are going to have to know how we are doing it, mixing it with renewable energy and ensure that the cost is still affordable,” Charles Jr added.

Jamaica, in particular the Corporate Area, has just come out of a major drought which made accessing water daily almost an impossible dream for hundreds of thousands. The major storage facilities in the Kingston Metropolitan Region — the larger Mona Reservoir, and the Hermitage Dam — last week revealed capacity above 90 per cent.

Emphasising sustainable development, Charles Jr said that the foundation had already been made to push forward with some exciting plans for improving the island's water condition.

“Technology provides opportunities for us to diversify the system. I have met with a team about an exciting technology where they are pulling water from the air, pulling water from the atmosphere, they have the technology. So I have challenged them to present me with this technology in an affordable way, because I am open to solutions that are sustainable and sensible,” Charles Jr said, while making the distinction that the team looking at desalination was different from that which has proposed the project to extract water from the atmosphere.

Charles Jr, who was appointed minister on March 25 this year following stints as minister of state in the Ministry of National Security, and later Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, outlined a raft of objectives that the section of the ministry under his command was committed to.

“The thrust is to introduce water technology and innovation to expand the water sources and utilise the waste and by-products in general ways; use sewage to create biofuels, use the by-products of desalination ... we must start doing things that focus on sustainable development, improve efficiency that will create better management and give us better results.

“Desalination is a good secondary source. Say we have a drought, the diversification of our water sector is critical to be able to withstand the impact of climate change.”

If desalination is introduced by the Government, it would be the first such effort by the State. Private power provider, the Jamaica Public Service Company Ltd, in June 2016 commissioned a desalination plant at its Rockfort Power Plant to help reduce water demand at its Hunt's Bay aquifer by an estimated 20 per cent. The company also projected at the time that the plant would save the company US$35,000 annually on its operations.

The medium-term goal, Charles Jr said, apart from desalination and the use of waste water in more beneficial ways, is to use the technology to help in defining the types of equipment that ought to be used in homes and business places.

“Just a simple use of different tools — different types of shower heads, different types of toilets, all of those, we are looking at building it into policy and guidelines, so that when you develop in Jamaica, you have to, in the future develop with equipment and material that fits into our sustainable green practice. You can't develop with big toilets that use seven to nine gallons per flush, for example,” the minister insisted.

“It is a lot of things that we are doing which will make big difference, like increasing community engagement, and pressing for the completion of projects in a timely manner,” Charles suggested.

Stopping again to emphasise the importance of utilising wasted waste water, Charles Jr is adamant that something tangible must be done to tap in on an area that has for decades been neglected — one he said stood a good chance of becoming a realistic revenue earner.

“When we are born we are told you eat good food and you put out what you don't want. So immediately in your mind you are taught waste is bad. You grow up, you go through school, you put things in bins, you don't want to touch it ... it's bad. Waste water, you don't want to smell it, it is bad. So all of us in this community they call Jamaica, shun waste water that to the point that even Soapberry where we have our waste water being processed, after processing it is just pushed out into the river, or ocean, while other countries are carrying those processes to other stages and using that water in irrigation; the hotels that we have in the country, where we visit and the tourists visit are doing the same thing, carrying their waste water for processing where they use it to irrigate their fields and irrigate their lawns. It is better for the lawn than the chlorinated potable water and it is less waste, greater efficiency and cost-effective. That is one thing we need to be doing with Soapberry. We are now looking at the divestment of Soapberry as a business and we need to be looking into how to extend those processes and include renewable energy technology in that process.

“The next thing is we have all of these sewage ponds across the country. We have some sewage ponds in prime areas, in areas where you have prime land that will be fit for residential or commercial activity. Similar to when I was at National Security, the first thing I observed is that GP [General Penitentary] is on one of the most expensive pieces of land in the country. Why? How do you put a prison right by the coast when you intend to develop downtown? At that time I had put forward a submission, brought in some people from Canada and we looked into moving the prison, building a productive sector where people can go; you have ponds, you have agriculture land, you have training centres, building shoes, making money. It's the same thing I'm looking at with NWC [National Water Commission]. How do we examine our land? Examine our spaces, find ways to transform our waste into productive resources. I'm looking at a project and I don't want to say too much, but a project that will eliminate some of the space we are now using for sewage, would congregate it in one area, utilise it for biofuel energy and then allow for the making of revenue from the commercial activity.

“If you have six sewage ponds, you reclaim those, biofuel being created in terms of it being transformed into energy, sending energy to the grid, making revenue from it, and you are able to do more with the money that you are making, do more with the spaces that you have reclaimed, it's completely positive things all around. If you can take that approach with everything, what it is a shift from the centre towards productivity, sustainability and just a different approach towards how you operate projects in the country. Utilising our unique characteristics, stop following how people do things and look on what we have before us and use what God has given us in terms of renewable energy, in terms of sustainable practices,” Charles said.


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