The following is an edited version of a presentation to the Senate last Friday by Senator Dr Chris Tufton on a motion he moved calling on the Government to develop a policy mandating rain water harvesting systems for future residential developments. The motion was accepted by the Senate.
WATER shortage is a critical issue facing our island annually. This is caused by a combination of factors, including drought conditions at certain times of the year and the lack of water storage, processing and piped infrastructure to retain and distribute this precious commodity from rain, aquifers, rivers and streams.
Globally, the availability of potable water is attracting increasing attention as a critical human rights imperative. Scientists have identified global warming, pollution, population increase and poverty as some of the main reasons for unequal access to this important commodity.
From the perspective of business, safe fresh water is critical to drive industry and commerce and the cost associated with securing this commodity has also impacted business efficiency and final cost to consumers.
Jamaica suffers from predictable drought conditions at different periods during a typical year, and this is projected to get worse over time. With consistency, each year the Government has had to implement measures to provide this scarce commodity during these times. These measures are never adequate, as evidenced by disgruntled residents who express frustration for the lack of this precious product.
Call-in programmes and demonstrations are not unusual as means of public protests. However, there is also silent suffering and long-term impact on human and national development. Water shortage has caused children to be absent from school and parents to be absent from work.
Adequate and clean water is fundamental to human health. When water is scare, water-related illnesses are more prevalent. Largely because citizens don't have enough and are forced to either go without for long periods or consume from contaminated sources. This is a challenge the world over.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2008, more than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation, and hygiene-related causes, with 99 per cent of those deaths occurring in developing countries.
In 2012, a WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme concluded that 780 million people lack access to an improved water source, approximately one in nine people.
On July 28, 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation.
The Resolution called on countries and international organisations to provide support for capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.
As a country we are failing to adequately prepare ourselves to provide this human right.
Like the rest of the world, and based on global warming projections, Jamaica's level of rainfall is projected to decrease within the next two decades, some may argue, alarmingly so. Jamaica's rainfall predominantly occurs in the wet months of May, August, September and October.
Currently, the long-term average annual rainfall in Jamaica is approximately 1,900 millimeters. But according to the World Bank Group, Jamaica's monthly average rainfall in the period of 2020 to 2039 could decline significantly, thereby having a dramatic impact on our water resources.
Currently 84 per cent of the island's water resource is underground sources. If the average rainfall decreases in the island, then so will the predominant source of the island's water supply. Our own vision 2030 projections are predicting that climate change is expected to have a major impact on the island's ground water as rising sea levels will increase the salinity of coastal aquifers.
Limitations of the NWC
A typical single-family home, between three and five persons, is estimated to use 3,000 and 5,000 gallons of treated water per month, according to the National Water Commission (NWC). On a daily basis the NWC supplies around 190 million gallons of water to approximately two million people across the island. However, the NWC is unable to properly meet the water demand for a number of reasons.
Firstly, nearly a third of the country's population doesn't have access to piped water. And where piped water exists, due to limited catchment, storage, processing and distribution infrastructure, water lock offs are routine during certain times of the year. Secondly, NWC has major operational challenges largely due to lack of resources. The commission's infrastructure is old and has not kept pace with population increases.
Today, 60 per cent of NWC water does not generate any revenue stream. Half of that quantity is classified as social water and the other half is wasted in distribution due to old leaking pipes. The NWC has a master plan, but no money to implement it. Given all these reasons, I am not convinced that we can depend on the NWC to solve the country's water challenges in totality. In fact, given budget limitations and projections of reduced rainfall, it is imperative that we find other approaches to compliment, if not replace, our dependence on the NWC.
Rainwater harvesting systems
For all these reasons, as a country, we must come to terms with our current and future water needs and look at all the possible ways to practise sustainable approaches to secure our water need for domestic use. Given that we are a small island with relatively predictable rainfall each year, we can benefit from a more structured programme for rainwater harvesting.
Others like us who are similarly challenged are doing this. It makes sense for us to learn from them and do the same.
A rainwater harvesting system consists of three basic elements: a collection area, a conveyance system, and storage facilities. The collection area in most cases is the roof of a house or a building. The effective roof area and the material used in constructing the roof influence the efficiency of collection and the water quality. The water ultimately is stored in a tank or cistern, which should also be constructed of an inert material.
Depending on the catchment system, there can be issues about how safe this water is for drinking, so rules would have to be put in place to guide this process. Reinforced concrete, fiberglass, or stainless steel are suitable materials which are popular choices here for roofing. It is also important to note that rainwater harvested for domestic purposes can be used for so many other things around the house -- cooking, washing, cleaning, for example.
Countries in the region such as St Lucia, Turks and Caicos, Bermuda, and Barbados all have compulsory rain harvesting systems to assist in addressing their domestic water needs.
In the case of Barbados, the Government mandated, effective January 1, 1996, all new residences in the country to construct water storage facilities if the roof area or living area equals or exceeds 3,000 square feet.
Some countries in recognition of the costs, but also the importance of this initiative, provide incentives for build out of rainwater harvesting systems.
In the case of Barbados, a rebate of $0.50 per gallon of installed tank capacity, up to the equivalent of 25 per cent of the total roof area, is given as an incentive by the Barbados Water Authority.
Given our financial constraints, we may not have the capacity to offer that incentive.
I would like to propose that as part of the consideration for this new policy, Government takes a look at property taxes rebates for a limited period of time to offset the additional costs for installing a rainwater harvesting system.
This could be administered by the parish councils (PC) which would verify, build out, and approve time-bound rebates from property taxes, say over three years. The PCs should have a vested interest in promoting better water management systems throughout the country, since they are burdened with trucking water during times of drought.