Drought FAQs

What is a drought?
Drought is generally defined as a long period – months or even years - of little or no rain, but there are also some more precise definitions for specific types of drought conditions. These are:
What causes droughts?

Droughts are caused by irregularities in weather patterns (including global warming, el nino and other weather phenomena) that result in insufficient rainfall. Localized droughts may also be exacerbated by poor environmental practices such as de-forestation, watershed degradation and over-use or pollution of water sources.

How does the current dry season caused by El Nino impact on the NWC’s operations?

A number of the NWC’s systems are supplied by surface water sources (rivers, springs).  The below normal rainfall over the past year has severely affected the flow of these sources which in turn impacts the volume and quantity of water entering the NWC’s facilities. The dwindling inflows are not sufficient to sustain normal operations, which result in daily shut down of the facilities.

How severe is the current drought?

Inflows into a number of water supply systems are now well below normal. Rainfall that we had expected during May and June did not materialize. For example, in May, the parish of Clarendon received only 27% of the 30 year normal rainfall while the parishes of Manchester, St. Mary, Portland and St. Thomas all received significantly less than the 30-year normal (or mean average) rainfall (1971-2000). This drastic reduction of rainfall has continued into the months of June and July.

Preliminary rainfall figures for June indicate that Jamaica received only 30% of its normal rainfall and all parishes, with the exception of sections of Westmoreland (54%), received less than 50% of normal rainfall. The southern parishes were hardest hit, with Clarendon receiving only 2% of its normal rainfall, followed by Manchester 4%, St. Thomas 6%, St. Mary 8% and Kingston and St. Andrew 12% of their 30-year normal rainfall.

The current drought affecting sections of Jamaica varies in severity from area to area or from one water supply system to the other. Of the 460 water supply systems operated by the National Water Commission (NWC), approximately 120 of these systems - including the largest systems serving much of the Corporate Area of Kingston and St. Andrew - are experiencing declines ranging between 20% and 100%. Water supply systems served by surface sources - i.e., rivers and springs - tend to be more severely affected than systems supplied from underground well sources. The demand for NWC-supplied water has also grown by as much as 50% in some areas.

What is NWC doing about the current drought?

NWC has implemented a range of short-term, medium-term and long-term measures to combat the current and future drought conditions. These measures include:

What is being done in the medium and long terms?

Medium-term projects primarily aimed at reducing the Commission’s dependence on small surface-source systems to larger and more underground source systems as well as greater interconnection between systems and reducing losses. Included are activities for developing new wells or rehabilitating existing unused wells and initiating changes to the distribution network to enable distribution of water from least affected systems to worst affected systems. Many other planned projects will also have positive impacts on building drought resilience.

Longer term projects such as the Jamaica Water Supply Improvement Project, the new 5 million gallons per day (MGD) Martha Brae Treatment Plant, rehabilitation of the Great River and Martha Brae Treatment Plants, the new 15 million gallons per day (MGD) Content Water Treatment Plant in St. Catherine, the 8.5 MGD Groundwater Recharge Project, the de-silting of the Hermitage Dam and many other projects to protect existing water sources, develop larger, more drought-resistant water supply systems, replace existing old and inefficient infrastructure, interconnect more water supply systems for improved manageability and various sewerage projects to protect the underground water supplies are also being undertaken at great cost.

Even when I am scheduled to get water, why is there none in my pipe?

As far as is possible, the National Water Commission continues to provide water through the pipes to its customers. There are instances where a customer may receive very low pressure or no water at all even during the hours that water is being supplied. This could be due to a number of factors, including elevation; location on the system; the distribution network; or customer demand in the particular area.

As it relates to trucked water, how is this coordinated?

Areas that are currently without usual piped water supply have been placed on a trucked water schedule.  This schedule is in keeping with the specific days that water would have been supplied to these areas under the current restriction/regulation arrangement.  (Customers are being reminded that based on the nature of trucking water, particularly as it relates to time, turnover and expanse and location of an area, that the effectiveness of the exercise may be compromised, often times resulting in incomplete delivery.)

Should customers pay for water that is provided by NWC trucks?

NO. Trucks and personnel deployed by the National Water Commission are not authorized under any circumstances to collect any monies from customers for water provided.

Are there any immediate plans to build dams and storage tanks for future supply should there be a reoccurrence of this weather condition?

While there are no immediate plans to build any more large, surface-water dams, NWC has committed to de-silting the Hermitage Dam and has also initiated a contract for an Artificial Groundwater Recharge Project - which in effect is storing millions of gallons of water underground instead of in a surface level dam or reservoir.

What can customers and individuals do?

In this severe shortage of water affecting sections of the country, we all need to adjust and make do with less water.  Voluntary, personal conservation can go a far way in both saving money and saving water for use another day or for use by others in need. Studies show that water use in an average household can be reduced by 30% by simply practicing good conservation measures without any significant inconvenience.

Conserve water by:

Water Saving Tip

Check your toilets for leaks
Put a little food coloring in your toilet tank. If, without flushing, the color begins to appear in the bowl within 30 minutes, you have a leak that should be repaired immediately. Most replacement parts are inexpensive and easy to install.