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'We can't give everybody piped water'

WRA says cost to get commodity in remote areas unsustainable

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor — features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, March 20, 2014    

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SOME Jamaicans will never enjoy the luxury of turning on a pipe inside their house to wash their hands, take a shower, or do the dishes.

For, in spite of the island having enough water, the sheer cost of getting the commodity from the source to remote areas is unsustainable, according to the managing director of the Water Resources Authority (WRA).

Each year, the country uses less than 25 per cent of its water resource reserves, 90 per cent of which are stored in underground aquifers and will require drilling wells to gain access. The energy cost involved in doing that, plus installing the requisite infrastructure would not be profitable.

"We anticipate that we will develop it in time [but] the issue is one of energy costs; being able to lift that water and move that water and transport that water. That's one reason we can't give everybody piped water because you can't run long transmission lines over hilly country and not collect anything for it and expect to be able to meet your expenses and have a viable NWC," Basil Fernandez told this week's Observer Monday Exchange.

His comment was made in the context of challenges utility provider National Water Commission has with revenue losses due to unmetered water.

A substantial number of communities, particularly in rural Jamaica, are without piped water. But, Fernandez pointed out that piping was not the only means of servicing households with potable water as tanks, springs, and rainwater harvesting were valuable solutions.

"We really need to look at the different modalities that can be utilised to meet the water demand in different rural areas," he said.

In line with that, the WRA head said the agency, with financing from the Inter-American Development Bank, was now drafting a strategy to outline the approach to supplying water to rural areas.

"The rural water development strategy will set out how we are going to meet the water demand in rural areas using different modalities, whether it's water shops, whether it's pipelines, whether it's small springs, whether it's tanks, rainwater harvesting... and it may be a combination of different modalities, but the point is there's not one solution to the problem," he said.

The methods chosen will depend on cost/benefit analyses, "especially these days when resources are so scarce".

The WRA head was speaking to the Observer ahead of World Water Day, which will be observed this Saturday. He was joined at the Exchange by conservator of forests Marilyn Headley and acting senior manager for public relations and corporate communications Francine Black Richards, as well as deputy director of the Meteorological Service of Jamaica Evan Thompson and his colleague Adrian Shaw.

International Day of Forests and World Meteorological Day will also be observed this week, on Friday and Sunday respectively.

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