NWC head defends water production, welcomes high-rises

Associate editor
— features

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

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Even as debate rages over the impact of the influx of multi-storey residences and the attendant population increase on social services, the National Water Commission (NWC), which activated a water restriction regime in sections of the Corporate Area last Thursday, says it produces enough water to supply the city.

“Yes, we do produce adequate amounts of water,” NWC President Mark Barnett reiterated via phone yesterday.

It was a point he made at the Radio Jamaica community meeting in Half-Way-Tree last Thursday night.

“On an average, we produce just about 48 million gallons of water to the Corporate Area. If you look at the number of persons in the Corporate Area, to the supply, that water, it is adequate. It is very adequate,” Barnett stressed.

As of Monday, February 3, Hermitage Dam recorded a level of 87.2 per cent of its 343.2-million gallon capacity. The Mona Reservoir, meanwhile, had 79.6 per cent of its 643.5-million gallon capacity.

“There may be planned developments that I'm not aware of... What I can speak to is what is in front of us and, based on what is in front of us, our approval process is guaranteeing that those developments will have water,” the NWC boss added.

The issue, he argued, is that the state of the supply network gives rise to heavy leakage.

“What you have is a system that is very old and inefficient. When I produce, say 60 gallons of water, and I lose 40, or even more, it simply means I have less water legitimately to go around. It therefore means priority for the NWC is to reduce the amount of leaks that we have in the system.

“We all know the infrastructure in the Corporate Area is older than most of us. I know for sure it's older than me. And, therefore, when you have such a system that you have under-investment, you're bound to have a situation where you're going to be leaking out most of what you produce,” Barnett explained.

While it's not a new argument for the NWC to bemoan the condition of its decades-old water supply and sewerage system, on Thursday Barnett laid much of the blame on what he and other players in the construction development arena have described as a history of disorderly urban planning across the capital.

“It wasn't orderly planned in a way that you put out your water supply system, sewerage as well, and then other developments take place. It doesn't happen like that. So, we have always argued: We need the orderly planning arrangement that tells me where people are going to live; that tells me where the businesses are going to operate; that tells me where factories are going to be located. That helps you to determine the type of water infrastructure that you need to put in place,” the NWC head charged.

The town planning authority, Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation, maintained that it oversees “a robust approval process” currently guided by the Provisional Development Order, 2017. That order, among other things, allows for higher population densities across the Corporate Area and the construction of multi-storey, multi-family units. Players in the industry, including some architects, engineers, and developers themselves, have raised concerns about the impact of the development on privacy, access to water, air flow, shading, solid waste management, among others.

The NWC has publicly advised developers that it is not responsible for supplying water to high-rise buildings above the second floor; it is the purview of the respective developer.

On Thursday, Barnett welcomed the increase in mid- and high-rise buildings, arguing that it provides a means of rehabilitating the NWC's network.

“On the matter of high-rise, this may come as an objection to the audience, but the fact is, what we have seen now, we have been able to utilise what has been happening to renew a lot of our infrastructure... For those engineers who are here in the audience, they know in a water utility it is a continuous investment that you have to make up to 10 per cent per annum. The NWC is not able to do that on an annual basis because of other reasons. So, number one, we are renewing the infrastructure in the Corporate Area,” Barnett disclosed.

“And just recently, we spent upwards of $6 billion to improve our transmission means. That is investment that we should have done many years ago.”

Meanwhile, the NWC said the current water restrictions, which take effect from 9:30 pm to 4:59 am each day, affect areas served by the Mona Treatment Plant — Mona Heights, Old Hope Road, Hope Road, Hope Flats, Lady Musgrave Road, sections of New Kingston, sections of Half-Way-Tree, Hagley Park Road, Maxfield Avenue, Molynes Road, sections of Harbour View, Mountain View Avenue, Cross Roads, South Camp Road, downtown Kingston, Beverly Hills, Ravinia, Mona Road, Devon Square, Waterloo Road, Cassia Park, Eastwood Park, and Upper Maxfield Avenue. The restrictions are in an effort to hedge against the dry season when the inflows into the two main storage facilities in the Corporate Area are expected to fall off.

With a network of more than 150 underground wells, and about 250 river and spring sources, the NWC produces more than 90 per cent of the country's total potable water supply. It provides more than 70 per cent of the population with direct water services, and only 15 per cent with wastewater services.

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