$60,000 water bill

Kitson Town, St Catherine residents dig deep to access basic commodity

Observer staff reporter

Monday, July 09, 2018

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RESIDENTS in some sections of Kitson Town, St Catherine, are bemoaning their lack of piped water — a decades-old vexation that has been burning holes in their pockets.

When the Jamaica Observer visited the St Catherine West Central community last Friday residents expressed that the issue has been a long-standing one that is costing some of them more than $60,000 per month.

“I pay $21,000 every nine days for water. I have to buy three truckloads of water, each at $7,000, every nine days to fill five tanks in order to be comfortable and operate my business,” said Neville Grant of N&D Farms in Dover district, Kitson Town. “I operate a farm, and I have had to scale down the operations. I can no longer plant anything like my plantain, banana and pumpkin. I just have to have my layers (egg-laying chickens), chickens, pigs, cows, and goats.

“I also have to buy spring water for drinking purposes. Others without the income suffer bad, and from time to time will turn up with their buckets and ask for water, and I help out as best as I can,” Grant said.

The Observer news team then stopped at Triple Zero Farm, a short distance from Grant's farm, where the property's caretaker, Leon Richards, explained that every eight days, between $8,000 and $9,000 is spent to purchase a truckload of water.

“It depends on who we purchase it from. Sometimes one truck is not up (operational), so we have to call another supplier. In the summer months it gets worse. We can't do much without the water as we have the pigs, goats, chickens, and cows. It's very rough,” he said.

In 2011, a water facility was built by VINCI Construction, under the Jamaica Water Sector Improvement Project, with a capacity of 175,000 imperial gallons of potable water, which was supplied by the Green Acres well and was commissioned into service in the community. However, this improved the water situation for only some areas in Kitson Town.

Today, running water is still not a reality for several areas of Kitson Town — including districts like Fletcher, Dover, Cherry, Content, Cottage, and Long Hill — that are now bearing the burden of being without a constant supply of the essential commodity.

Each truck that supplies the area carries 3,500 gallons of water. Residents pay between $250 and $700 for a drum of water. To fill a 200-gallon container the residents pay $1,200. A 650-gallon tank costs $1,700 to fill, and for a 1,000-gallon tank residents pay $2,500.

Besides the farmers — who must refill their tanks every nine days — other residents say they have to purchase water every two weeks, sometimes every week, depending on the heat and their workload.

“The water system is very bad. Every two weeks we have to buy water. It depends on what is going on, too, [like] when you have to wash, water your plants and crops, clean [and] bathe. We haven't had any heavy rains since about February. There is only one pipe around here and it a private pipe. Otherwise there are no pipes around,” Fletcher district resident Alphanso Hamilton said.

Then there are times the residents say they have to do without water as they may call the truck operators and they do not show up.

“The water situation is really bad. Sometimes you call the truck for days and it doesn't come on time. Then you have to be careful who you purchase from, as some go to the river and fill up,” another Fletcher District resident, Nezingah Surjue, said.

Frissilla Lindsay, who also resides in Fletcher district, said she has been living in the area for more than 20 years and for the majority of the period she has been without piped water.

“When I was a little girl they removed the pipes from the ground and since then we have not had piped water,” she said.

An elderly resident of Fletcher district, Artley Smith, also lamented that the water situation in the community was much different when he was a child.

“I was born in 1948 and growing up we had piped water, but we have to be buying it now and it's so funny that now, in modern times, we are not better off. Water is a special commodity and now we have to buy it,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, Estella Whyte Facey, a resident who has been living in Kitson Town for 42 years, said she has had enough and wants residents who are feeling the pressure to be more vocal.

“A lot will say it is bad but don't really tell you how bad. If you don't have a tank the water trucks won't come, and many people are afraid of politicians or they bow to their tricks. They will demonstrate and as the politicians come around and say, 'Here is a drink or money', they stop and the problem is still there.

“The only time you see them concerned about water is during election periods when they give them a drum of water so they can bathe to go to the polling station and come back,” Whyte Facey said.

She noted, too, that there were even talks to get National Water Commission (NWC) to install meters. However, she said when residents were told that they would have to pay a bill, some of them protested and those discussions ended.

However, Whyte Facey said for those who are willing to pay for what they consume, they should not be made to suffer.

“We really need running water. It is civilised time now. From I use water and am told this is what I consume, I don't have a problem paying [an NWC] bill,” she continued.

Another issue the residents say they face is a growing mosquito population. The residents said they have been given substances by the Ministry of Health team to put in their water-storage facilities. However, some residents said when they put the substances in their water, not even their animals can drink it, so they do not always treat the stored water.

Dr Christopher Tufton, Member of Parliament (MP) for St Catherine West Central, has admitted that the lack of piped water in Kitson Town is “tough and has been an issue for some time now”.

He told the Observer that the previous MP, Dr Ken Baugh, had started a major water project which brought water to some areas of Kitson Town. Dr Tufton said phase two of that project, which has not yet started, is to take water from main areas to other communities in Kitson Town, such as the ones visited by the news team on Friday.

Dr Tufton said: “The challenge with smaller and previous schemes is that the communities have grown and the demand has increased.”

The MP did not, however, provide a timeline for the start and completion of phase two of the project.

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