Rio Grande Valley residents rue lack of rainfall
Raftsmen, farmers facing ruin as drought bites
The Rio Grande in Portland is at the lowest level that some residents have seen in years.Photos: Everard Owen

BERRYDALE, Portland — The ongoing severe drought has left people struggling in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the major water sources in this parish.

When the Jamaica Observer visited the Golden Vale bridge, which spans the Rio Grande, recently, the water level was much lower than usual with rocks and morass exposed.

The Golden Vale bridge is one of the landmarks in the Rio Grande Valley with a weather station that measures the level of water in the river.

"I have lived here at Terro Nover [Berrydale] for the last 30 years. I am in my mid-50s and it is the first in my lifetime I have seen the river this dry. I have a tributary that runs behind my home and it has been dry from December last year and I was saying to a few raftsmen that if this weather condition continues they won't be able to pull up the rafts in the next two weeks. I've never seen this in history," said Veronica Thaxter-Savage.

Veronica Thaxter-Savage, who has been living in Berrydale for the last 30 years, says this is the first time that she has seen the Rio Grange this dry.

"The pattern of rain that we have been having and from what I've been hearing and reading about global warming, I know it is definitely here. People might complain about small farming and slash and burn [but] people are not doing small farming as when I was a child, because then they would slash acres and you would have like 20 men working and they would work on the hilly slope; maybe 200 acres would be slashed and cut for the year and worked in different parcels.

"If you look around, you will see a lot of bamboos and you still have this weather pattern, so definitely you will know it is the contribution of global warming," added Thaxter-Savage.

Farmer Rufus Thaxter also has great concerns about the impact of the drought.

"I am over 50 years old and I've never seen the river so dry. In Cooper's Hill and by Golden Vale it is even drier than when you reach to Berrydale. There is a lot of morass and grass growing in the river so it is really very low at this time," he said.

"This is the impact of both global warming and the drought we are experiencing. The low river is good for the fish; with the algae the young ones are able to breathe more, so we have an increase of fishes in the river because of the dryness, but if it continues there will be no water and they are all going to die," said Thaxter.

"The weather pattern has changed and we hardly have any rain. If we do get rain, it is a little sprinkling and it does not last for 10 minutes and it is not even enough to soak the earth. The decrease in rainfall is over 11 months now and this year we haven't been getting any rain at all. We hope we will get some rain by May. If we don't, I think we may not have a river. This will impact the rafting, domestic water supply, farmers' crops and life stock," added Thaxter.

Verona McPherson, a farmer in Rio Grande Valley, was seen walking across the river on the way from her farm. She told the Observer that the residents are praying for rain.

"We need to get some rain or we may have to get help with some soil or irrigation for people who have farms near the river to get pipes to get the water to the farms. I have seen it like this before but this is the worst," said McPherson.

She was supported by Paulette Donegan, who lives in Commodore where her husband earns his living through farming.

"The plants are drying up and the produce is getting lesser and lesser every day. It is terrible right now and even my husband, who does plantain and bananas, they are drying up and we can hardly get any to eat as it is very serious," said Donegan.

In nearby Windsor, farmers have been fetching water from various sources to give to their animals and to water plants on their farm as the drought bites.

On Thursday, the Meteorological Service of Jamaica issued a forecast for isolated morning showers across eastern parishes today with scattered afternoon and evening showers across most parishes and thunderstorms mainly across western parishes.

According to the Met Service, Saturday and Sunday should see morning showers across eastern and south-central parishes with scattered afternoon and evening showers across most parishes and thunderstorms mainly across northern parishes.

Related story:

‘We need some rain prayer: South Manchester/ St Elizabeth farmers hit hard by drought

BY EVERARD OWEN Observer writer

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