Holness announces $7.2 billion water supply system improvement plan

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has announced that $7.2 billion is to be spent to improve rural water supply systems in the face of worsening drought conditions and increasing uncertainty about the extent of the impact on the country’s water resources by climate change.

The more than two dozen projects are to be undertaken by the state-owned National Water Commission (NWC) and the engineering company, Rural Water Supply Limited. Of the amount, $5.8 billion is to be spent between 2020 and 2025 on major water supply systems in rural parishes.

The works are to include the upgrading of catchment areas, the rehabilitation and extension of pipelines, the installations of catchment tanks, and the rehabilitation of wells, among others measures.

Holness made the announcement in Parliament on Tuesday when he again updated the country on the growing crisis that is being presented by dwindling water supplies across most parishes. This was one week after he announced a $20 billion package of major projects to upgrade the water infrastructure for the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA).

The prime minister initially announced on Tuesday that an additional $100 million had been set aside to truck water and provide tanks to Kingston and St Andrew, Portland, St Mary and St Elizabeth – parishes that have been deemed to be experiencing drought-like conditions by the Meteorological Office.

However, after several Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) representing rural constituencies pleaded their individual cases, the parishes of Clarendon, Manchester and St Thomas were added, and the amount increased to $125 million. The MPs and their councillors are to meet with Pearnel Charles Jr, the Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, as well as with representatives of the NWC, to work out a water distribution schedule. Holness said priority will be given to schools, hospitals, health centres, day care facilities, public sanitary conveniences and nursing homes.

He also indicated that since March, the NWC has spent some $205 million to truck water to affected communities. He said the water utility is to continue to truck water and distribute tanks to Corporate Area communities that are affected by the lack of water. Additionally, Holness said the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation is to provide $110 million to address water issues across the rest of the island.

Meanwhile, the prime minister appealed to Jamaicans to observe the prohibition notice that has been issued by the NWC for parts of the country, and which will take effect on Friday. He has also appealed to Jamaicans to conserve water.

Under the prohibition, the use of potable water supplied by the NWC to water lawns, gardens, wash cars, pathways or pavements, or to fill swimming pools and ponds, is not allowed. The filling of tanks, except for domestic use, is also not allowed. The prohibition notice affects 90 water supply systems, and persons who disregard the notice could be liable for prosecution.

“The present water shortage is not a situation where the Government, by virtue of any capital expenditure, can bring immediate solutions,” Holness stressed.

In a presentation to the House that was filled with graphics, Holness used maps to show the 30-year mean rainfall for Jamaica from 1971 to 2000. It showed two dry periods in March and July, with the highest wet periods being May and October. It also showed the highest concentration of rainfall during that latter period in the parishes of Portland and St Mary.

However, this pattern has now shifted, with the month of March showing the highest levels of rainfall for the island, and with north western parishes, rather from those in the north east, getting the bulk of the rainfall.

“That has implications for the distribution of water within the Corporate Area,” the prime minister noted, while pointing out that the rainfall in Portland and St Mary normally supplies the Yallahs water supply system, which in turn provides water for the Mona Dam in St Andrew.

The prime minister said overall, the island is close to drought conditions, and although a drought has not been declared for the entire island, there are several parishes experiencing drought-like conditions.

“So this issue of climate change, members, is real,” said Holness while indicating that he will speak to climate change and its impact next on his agenda for water supply systems week.

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