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The Realities of Water Access in Jamaica

NWC’s President Mark Barnett - Panel Discussion |CVMTV

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 differing definitions include:

  1. Agricultural drought – a period when soil moisture is inadequate to meet the demands for crops to initiate and sustain plant growth.
  2. Hydrological drought – period of below average or below normal stream-flow and/or depleted reservoir storage.
  3. Meteorological drought – a period of well-below normal precipitation (rainfall) that spans from a few months to a few years.

There are also different ways of measuring drought but all of them have negative implications for potable water systems. While drought is often used inter-changeably with dry season, the two are not necessarily the same. Dry seasons, when they occur as expected and to the degree expected, are not droughts. Similarly, rain may indeed fall during a wet season, but if it is below 60% of what was expected based on 30-year historical trends, you may indeed have a drought in the middle of a supposed wet season.

In the case of Jamaica, our expected dry season runs from December to April and again in July. Most water supply systems around the world are vulnerable to drought conditions to varying degrees. Like in many other countries around the world and around the region, sections of Jamaica are currently experiencing drought conditions using any or all of the above drought definitions. According to the Meteorological Services of Jamaica, all parishes received below normal rainfall in December 2022. More than half of our parishes were in meteorological drought for November/December, a worsening situation from the not-good months before, compounding Jamaica`s rainfall deficit. Kingston and St. Andrew got only 5% of the rainfall it normally gets in December!

What causes droughts?

Droughts are caused by well below normal rainfall as a result of irregularities in weather patterns (including global warming, climate change, El Nino and other weather phenomena). Localized droughts may also be exacerbated by poor environmental and development practices including issues like de-forestation, watershed degradation and over-use or pollution of water sources.

What is being done in the medium and long terms?

Many of NWC’s major projects include a component that aims at building resilience and reducing the likely impact of emergencies like drought. Over recent years the NWC has undertaken major projects like the 8.5MGD Groundwater Aquifer Recharge Project, the recently completed Kingston and St. Andrew (KSA) Non Revenue Water (NRW) Reduction Project, the Spanish Town Road Pipeline Replacement Project, and a slew of smaller projects in every parish islandwide 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 have all contributed in some way to building resilience.

The Portmore NRW Project is now being implemented and reaping benefits, while the Rio Cobre Water Supply Project and the Islandwide NRW Project are at early stages. The major mains replacement initiatives along several road corridors along with the NWA will also build drought resistance.

What can customers do?
pipe dripping

Everyone can make a difference in 4 main ways.

  1. Be prepared to adjust your usage and store some water in the event water supplies in your area are disrupted or put on a schedule;
  2. Conserve. 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. Water use can be reduced by up to 30% by simply practicing good conservation measures without any significant inconvenience.
  3. Report leaks on the public network t o 888-CALL NWC so that it can be addressed
  4. Report illegal connections which tend to also waste water because it is not being paid for;
Conserve water by:
Reducing water use wherever possible and finding alternatives to water-intensive activities. For example, turn off all taps as soon as the water isn’t being used and don’t use the toilet to dispose of things that should be in a wastebasket, but do use disposables to reduce the need to wash dishes.
Re-use or re-cycle water whenever possible. For example, re-use the water used to wash plates or clothes to water plants, wash cars or water lawns.
Re-place water wasting devices such a 7- and 5-gallons per flush toilets or gushing showerheads with water-saving devices such as flow restrictors and aerators.
Repairing all leaks – whether they are a nuisance or not or whether they appear to waste a lot of water or not. Even small leaks waste a lot of water over time and various studies show that about 10% of water in homes is wasted due to leaks.

Also, do not leave taps turned on when there is no water in the pipes, as when water returns you may be unaware and the pipe would be left running.

Find more ways to conserve water Conservation Methods  

Drought NWC's All Island Drought Update 2023

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