MONTEGO BAY, St James – "This is going to affect my business tremendously," St James car wash operator Latoyia Thomas lamented over the prohibition order imposed by the National Water Commission (NWC) .
Thomas, who runs Thom's Spotless Auto Spa, is one of several car wash operators who have been on edge since the NWC issued the order on Friday.
She told the Jamaica Observer that she has been anxious, while recognising the extent of the drought that has led the commission to take that kind of action at the height of low water stored in catchment facilities.
"The order also applies to individuals who cause or give permission to others to break the law," NWC said in a release. The water commission also noted that the offences are punishable by a fine imposed by the parish courts after conviction.
However, failing to pay the fine may result in imprisonment for up to 30 days.
Among the offences are watering of gardens, lawns, grounds, and farms; refilling of ponds or swimming pools and/or for use other than normal domestic services; washing of vehicles by the use of a hose; watering or washing roadways, pavements, paths, and garages; and any purpose which may require the use of a considerable or excessive quantity of water.
According to Thomas, the prohibition order came as a surprise, as while it is a move by the water commission yearly during droughts, those restrictions were mainly placed on the parishes of Kingston and St Andrew. She said that the restriction now placed on washing cars with the use of a hose may be detrimental to business owners who utilise the NWC water system to carry out their operations.
"I am a single mother with three kids and if I am not able to use water to wash the cars, I am going to be out of business. This is going to affect me in every way because then I will have to close the business for a while or I am going to be losing customers," Thomas told the Sunday Observer.
While she expressed an understanding of the water commission's decision to impose the restrictions in drought-affected areas, Thomas said that she is "frightened" by the move.
"There is a lot of anxiety because it is a really frightening thing, but I do hope it resolves soon because this is going to affect a lot of people and businesses," she said.
In the meantime, she told the Sunday Observer that she intends to abide by the restrictions imposed as she seeks ways to cushion the blows that the prohibition order will cause on the operation of her business.
"I do have a tank, so I will have to reserve water, and I may have to buy as well, but that is going be more spending than earning, because just using the same tank is not going to work since we use a power wash machine, so I don't know how that will go," she said.
Similarly, a car wash operator in Negril expressed worry over the quality of service that he will now be able to provide to his customers amid the prohibition order. The man, who asked the Sunday Observer not to disclose his name, stated that the restrictions "seem very strange" to residents of the western parts of the island.
"I have two water tanks, but I don't see how that will help me right now because that water cannot do anything. Washing cars from buckets also doesn't make any sense because it won't give the same professional look and feel, so I feel worried about this," he said.
"The NWC also didn't say how long this restriction will last, so a lot of us are feeling frightened by this, especially because we are not used to this over in the west," he continued.
Chez Jones, owner of Maximum Car Detailing Ja in Falmouth, also expressed concern regarding the NWC's prohibition order. However, unlike the other car wash operators, Jones told the Sunday Observer that he was already facing water troubles at his establishment due to frequent lock-offs by the NWC.
"This is going to be a hard situation, but we already have a lot of water issues in this area. We barely ever have water so I have to buy a lot. We get water from the Martha Brae but water is always gone and there is also a reservoir in my area, but it seems to always be dry," he said.
Taxi operator Patrick Robinson shared that he, too, is worried about the quality of service that he will now be able to provide to his passengers. Robinson, who plies the Meadows of Irwin route in St James, explained that while he usually has to wash his vehicle three times each week, due to the current state of the road, this water restriction may cause that to change.
"There is no way to go around this because if the Government implemented this measure to ease the burden, then we have to take heed and go with the order. We may have to just wash one day a week now, or even two. We have to take into consideration that the whole Irwin area is under development and there is so much dust, so it is going to be really difficult for us as taxi drivers," Robinson said.
The Sunday Observer also spoke with car wash operators in Kingston and St Andrew, but a majority declined to comment on the record, although one said that he had a backup system that would make the supply from NWC not as crippling to his operations.
The Sunday Observer visited two operations in particular late Saturday and the principals were infuriated by NWC's decision. They, too, opted for their names to be omitted from this article but agonised over what they described as an "every year foolishness".
"Tell me one year when we nuh have to suffer the same way... all two, three times for the year," one said.
"Every time the Government and NWC talk foolishness 'bout them going do this and that to ease the water shortage, but it is always just talk," another said. "I remember when Pearnel Charles Jr was responsible for water and he said that he was even going to set up a desalination plant, and that plan just died. Now, [Matthew] Samuda is the water minister and every day him talk 'bout water improvement, but every day is water rubbish. We can't go on like this. We need people who can give this country a good water system," the operator said.