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Below normal rainfall impacting NWC supplies

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, August 08, 2012    

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APPROXIMATELY 100 of the National Water Commission’s (NWC) water supply systems have been severely crippled by the drought conditions impacting the island over the last few months resulting in major restrictions for some customers.

“The Met Office (National Meteorological Office) has indicated that their monthly rainfall report, bears out that for the last several months most parishes continue to receive below normal rainfall amounts, that was true for 11 parishes during May and about the same number of parishes during June and this is following on the normally low rainfall periods, February to May. So it is a fact that we have been seeing significantly below normal rainfall in a number of parishes over succeeding months,” Charles Buchanan, NWC’s corporate public relations manager, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

“The effect of this has varied somewhat on specific water supply systems, but we had approximately 100 of our 460 water supply systems during the course of the last two months or so that have been experiencing significantly enough below normal inflows to impact on the level of service to some customers,” he said.

The limited rainfall and the declining water storage levels, he said, have led to the NWC being forced to institute major water restrictions to some customers while appealing for all to conserve.

While not delineating all communities so affected, Buchanan said most parishes across the island would feel the pinch while noting that a number of the areas in rural St Andrew and those served by the Hope River have seen significant decline, with continued decline in the inflows from the Wag Water River and the Hermitage Dam sources.

“The truth is that the majority of the systems that are badly affected are those that are served by relatively small surface sources, that is springs and small streams; and of our 460 water supply systems we do have a number of such systems which are vulnerable to fluctuating weather conditions and particularly drought because of the very size of the source itself and at the same time the extent of the areas served by the system or the number of customers connected to that facility,” he told the Observer.

In the meantime, he said part of the NWC’s long-term strategy for dealing with droughts is “to develop larger, more robust, less vulnerable water supply systems that would reduce absolute dependence on some of these small unreliable sources that give you water for half the year and none for the other half.”

“That requires major investment in infrastructure and we have been doing that but we need to do more. We have done a number of major improvements over recent years... all of which have helped... but in the meantime there is a need for more such projects,” Buchanan noted.

That, he said, will cost the NWC big bucks.

“In general, we have identified where the commission will need to expend about $191 billion in the course of the next five to 10 years as part of an ambitious programme that we have to expand service and improve the reliability of our network in all the areas that we serve,” Buchanan added.

Meanwhile, the Commission is now mapping the impact of weekend rains from Tropical Storm Ernesto on its water supply levels.

And even as the Commissions strives to supply services to its legitimate customer base Buchanan said the situation is aggravated by persons outside of the planning process.

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