ENVIRONMENTALISTS are bemoaning the recurrence of pollution spills in waterways, arguing that puny fines for breaches do not encourage entities to do better.
The most recent incident of pollution in the Rio Cobre occurred on December 24, causing what some people have referred to as a small fish kill.
The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) issued a statement on Tuesday in which it addressed the matter saying that approximately 50 fish were seen floating on the river on Christmas morning, and that the pollution was due to a malfunctioning National Water Commission (NWC) sewage treatment plant at Charlemont in St Catherine.
The defective plant was said to have caused untreated sewage to be emitted into the Old John’s Gully which flows into the river.
NEPA said the NWC has since corrected the problem which was caused by a power outage at the plant. NEPA said that arising from this incident, it will be serving the NWC with an enforcement notice on Wednesday, December 27, outlining specific terms which the entity must comply with.
On Wednesday, Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), said the Rio Cobre is too important for so many spills to be occurring. She pointed that from 2019 to 2023 there has been several effluent spills in the Rio Cobre and in other waterways, with guilty parties receiving just a slap on the wrist.
“The RÃo Cobre is extremely important. It is a source of water for domestic purposes, for industrial purposes, agricultural and for the residents who use it for recreation. The fact that we have these incidents so frequently, we have a problem. The entities located close to the river are clearly not doing what they are supposed to do to properly protect the environment in which they are located and the regulatory authorities are not doing enough to monitor and enforce the existing environmental legislation. We have fines for when these things happen but they are not harsh enough.
“We have been promised that the fines would be increased. We were promised that by the first quarter of 2023 we would have seen harsher penalties and I don’t know what the new timeline is like. I know that to have proper protection and conservation of the environment, you need a combination of things, including better enforcement, better monitoring and harsher fines. We need better treatment of the environment and social responsibility. We have to understand that water is life and this river, there are a lot of plans for development but it is also at risk for climate change,” the JET CEO remarked.
Moreover, environmentalist Diana McCaulay raised a few question about the most recent spill, which included why a generator wasn’t in place at the NWC plant to prevent such a major issue from occurring in case of a power outage.
“The problem really is a failure of our environmental monitoring and enforcement systems. If you think about the water commission one, where we are told that it was a failure of the Jamaica Public Service [JPS] power supply, but the NWC should have in place a generator or some kind of redundancy to make sure the sewage pumps work, because it is not like a power cut is unheard of. It is a frequent thing. My question when I saw that was, why? NEPA said in their release that they are going to require the NWC to have some extra thing that if the power fails the switch bank can still work. My question is, why wasn’t that already in place. I think we are just entirely careless with our rivers and the sea for that matter,” she said.
McCaulay told the Observer that environmentalists have tried to put pressure on government to get a tight grip on these incidents, but to no avail.
McCaulay said: “Government talks a good environmental talk but these things keep happening, and this demonstrates a of lack seriousness about monitoring and enforcement. Also, the fines are really low. We have been talking about the fines being too low under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act [NRCA] for probably 15 years now, or maybe longer, and yet we have not raised them. Every time we ask about it, we are told that they are in their final stages. They have been in their final stages for about the last six years.”