Bottled water business booms in Portmore

Refilling stores doing brisk trade as residents reject tap water

BY COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer reporter

Sunday, November 25, 2012

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THE sale of bottled water is on the increase in Portmore, St Catherine according to sellers of the commodity, as residents seem to be drinking less and less piped water.

During checks by the Jamaica Observer in the municipality last week, residents said they were increasingly concerned about the deteriorating quality and taste of water being piped into their homes; the main source being the National Water Commission (NWC).

"The (piped) water is definitely heavier, it tastes heavier," complained one of three female employees at a convenience store located inside the Shell Service Station on Passagefort Drive. Sometimes you can definitely taste the rusty pipes and things like that in the water. That's why I don't drink it," said the Portmore resident, citing her experience as the reason bottled water is one of the fastest-selling products in her store.

Sheryl Fuller, a resident of Bridgeport, expressed similar sentiments when approached in the Empire Supermarket in the Portmore Pines Plaza.

"I don't drink water in Portmore because it has a heavy taste. I only drink bottled water; the water in Portmore has an awful taste," said the pregnant woman, adding that she recently moved into the community from Linstead. "Any water above Flat Bridge I will drink, but once it pass there I am not drinking it," said the woman, referencing a section of the Rio Cobre in St Catherine from which the NWC collects some of the water it distributes in Portmore.

Millicent Matheson, a resident of Waterford, and Marjorie McFarlane, from Daytona — who were both customers in Shoppers Fair Supermarket in the Portmore Mall on Friday — said they, too, have opted for filtered water as they have become sceptical of that which runs out of Portmore taps.

Still another Portmore resident, Afreen Francis, interviewed inside the Empire Supermarket at the Portmore Pines Mall, explained that she has also switched.

"After the hurricane (Sandy), the water was very dirty, so persons had to buy bottled water 'cause that (piped water) couldn't drink. But also, Portmore has a lot of water cuts and usually when the water comes back it has a lot of 'black-black' (sediment) in it, and that is not suitable to drink," she said, adding that her family only drinks bottled water.

David Morrison, store manager at Empire Supermarket's Portmore Pines branch, explained that bottle water sales have increased, especially following the hurricane.

"Before and after Sandy persons have been stacking up on bottled water because of the quality of the water in the pipes. But it is not only for health reasons, it is a trend too; people love to be seen with the bottles instead of a cup or glass of water," explained Morrison, whose statements were echoed by Keisha Miller, store manager at the Shoppers Fair.

"Since (Hurricane) Sandy we have seen a huge increase. We have had to increase the amount of water that we purchase for the week; sometimes the trucks have had to come back, like twice for the week," she said, noting that customers are specifically purchasing the five gallon bottles of water. "Customers say that they don't like the taste (of the tap water) and they say it looks discoloured and so on," she said, pointing to a huge empty section on the store's water display shelf. She said that just the night before the shelf was packed with giant bottles of the thirst-quencher.

Bryan Fletcher, floor manager at MegaMart in Portmore, St Catherine — while noting that persons in Portmore have always consumed bottled water predominantly — explained, however, that the sales have grown in recent months.

"Before (Hurricane) Sandy, persons were purchasing a lot of bottled water, and even after Sandy persons continue to buy the bottled water because they don't trust the water from the tap," he said. "They (customers) are mostly going for the five litre, the four litre, and the five gallon," he said.

A five-gallon bottle of water can cost consumers up to $573; the five litre, $250; the 3.8 litre $132, and the 1.5 litre, $95.

In the meantime,Christopher Dyer, operator of the Crystal Clear water refilling outlet just outside Mega Mart says his business has been booming. Dyer uses machines to extract impurities and excess chlorine from the normal tap water.

"It is education; more and more people are becoming educated about the health benefits of purified water and the risks there are from drinking piped water, so that is why they are going for the purified water," he said. "Also, after the hurricane, they (NWC) put a lot of chlorine in the water to kill the bacteria and people don't like to taste the chlorine. What we do is filter the water, take out those impurities, and remove the excess chlorine from the water," he said.

It costs $250 to refill a five-gallon bottle at his outlet, which is among several other small water stores across the municipality.

One company — Mekyah — drives around to different commmunities and sells its purified water door-to-door, according to residents of West Cumberland, who say the truck visits on Sunday mornings. Two five-gallon bottles can be had for $700.

In the meantime, corporate relations mManager at the NWC Charles Buchanan defended the quality of water being supplied to Portmore.

"The National Water Commission stands by the quality of the water we provide to Portmore, and any instance of genuine complaints from a customer can be brought to our attention and we will investigate and address this," he said. "We just recently won an award for the best tasting tap water in the Caribbean region. Persons choice as to whether they choose to buy expensive water is entirely their own," he said.

Explaining the discolouration residents spoke of, Buchanan said: "We have had instances of either discolouration or particles in the water, and each of those cases are related to situations where the water supply is frequently interrupted," he said. "When the water is restored you will have 'scouring' inside the pipe, where the sudden rush of water causes discolouring."





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