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:
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!
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.
More than 260 of the NWC’s 450 systems are supplied by surface water sources (rivers and springs) that are especially vulnerable to drought. The below normal rainfall over the past several months has severely affected the flows to many of these sources which in turn impacts the volume of water being available to supply customers. The dwindling inflows are not sufficient to sustain normal operations on at least 76 of NWC’s systems.
The current drought affecting sections of Jamaica varies in severity from area to area or from one water supply system to the other. Inflows into 76 of 450 NWC water supply systems are now well below normal. Other systems are also seeing reduced inflows but have nonetheless been able to produce at or near their normal outputs. Most affected water supply systems are:
At the same time, we are also aware that supplies from other providers of all types of water are also being drought affected. Supplies from many minor water supply systems operated by the municipal authorities have dried up; and the demand for irrigation supplies have also increased at the same time that the means to meet the need is reduced. The legal and illegal demand for NWC-supplied water has therefore grown by as much as 50% in some areas during the dry seasons, straining even those systems that have not reduced output significantly.
NWC has initiated a number of measures to limit the impact of the current drought. These measures include:
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.
Everyone can make a difference in 4 main ways.
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.
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