Update on Water
The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, ON, PC, MP
Prime Minister of Jamaica
The Sitting of the House of Representatives
October 31, 2023
Mr Speaker, these documents are normally circulated in a physical copy so the members can be assured that they will have a physical copy of it. Mr Speaker, I rise to provide an update to this honourable House on some matters related to the issue of water.
It is to provide an update to this honourable house on some matters related to the issue of water. In the last 12 months, Jamaica has suffered the effects of significant reductions in its average rainfall. This is a result of both our change in climate and the El Nino phenomenon.
Members of this House should recall my statement on the drought which I made in February of this year and the outline response of the government. However, I think it’s important, Mr Speaker, to remind members of how severe our drought really was prior to the rains we thankfully received in this month, October 2023.
In October 2022 to March 2023, Jamaica received cumulatively the lowest rainfall ever for this period since records have been kept. In February 2023, Kingston and St. Andrew received only 8 percent of its 30-year average rainfall and that’s significant, Mr. Speaker. Over the last 12 months, October 2022 to September 2023, every month except June has seen less rainfall than the previous year and less than the 30-year average.
To make matters worse, in July and in August, both months broke temperature records, recording the highest average temperatures ever recorded in our island. Mr Speaker, it is important that the public be aware of the strategic work being done by the government to address the issue of water availability and supply in a comprehensive manner. We are approaching this critical issue in a cohesive manner bringing all ministries, departments, and agencies together through the Integrated Water Resource Management Council. Mr Speaker, even as we speak on the work being done on the water portfolio, we must note the challenges we face in ensuring sustainable water being available to Jamaicans.
Mr Speaker, we face the challenge of a perennial drought made worse by climate change. Mr Speaker, we have aging infrastructure. I hate to digress from my script, Mr Speaker, but I think the public needs to appreciate that most of our major water infrastructure would be more than 40 years old. Most would be more than 40. It could be 50.
Mr Speaker, the Hermitage Dam is more than 80 years old. The Mona Reservoir, built in the 1940s. Mr Speaker, when we were changing out the pipeline along Constant Spring Road, that pipeline was about 60 years old and when we changed out the pipeline along Spanish Town Road, again, 60 years old or more so our infrastructure is really a challenge.
But Mr Speaker, the other challenge we face is the capacity of the old infrastructure we have. We just cannot carry the volumes of water that is required by all the residential, commercial, agricultural, and industrial development that has taken place since these infrastructures were installed so we do have significant challenges with ensuring that Jamaicans have not just access, but quality and reliable access to water.
Mr Speaker, today we are taking two major steps in the pursuit of our articulated water goals with the tabling of the National Water Resource Master Plan for Jamaica and the Rainwater Harvesting Guidelines: these two documents, the master Plan and the Rainwater Harvesting Guidelines.
Mr Speaker, the National Water Resources Master Plan for Jamaica is an assessment of Jamaica’s water resources and demand based on the period 2016 to 2019 as mandated by section 16 of the Water Resources Act 1995. It is an update of both the completed 1990 and draft 2005 plans and considers the various changes in available data and monitoring techniques, demography, economic activity and impacts of climate change.
Various changes in the water resources and the environment which have occurred since these previous plans include changes in the legislative and institutional framework of the water sector, improved estimates of water resources with additional years of hydrological data and advances in technology that allow for better analyses.
Impacts of climate change on projected water demand and availability and changes in demographic growth, distribution, industrial and agricultural land usages, and the subsequent changes in water demand for all sectors. As mandated by Section 16 of the Water Resources Act 1995, the National Water Resources Master Plan will provide objectives for developing Jamaica’s water resources and inventory of Jamaica’s available water quantity, quality, usage, and activities impacted by water usage, as well as guidance on water quality objectives. Additionally, it will allow the government of Jamaica to evaluate methods to meet water quality and quantity objectives.
Mr Speaker, the plan will also enable the efficient planning and allocation of resources within the water sector as it provides information related to the following:
- The physical setting of Jamaica
- Resources assessment.
- Demand assessment
Water resources monitoring, and I’ll take each of them, Mr. Speaker. In terms of the physical setting of Jamaica, this includes the hydro stratigraphy of Jamaica, and this is a classification of Jamaica’s geological formations based on their assessment for groundwater production potential as well as hydrologic basins and watershed management units. I hope that gave a sufficient explanation.
We’re looking at the various geological formations, how they allow water to permeate, how they store water and the capacity of storage that they have, the accessibility based upon the hydrological formations. So, we’re doing this, Mr Speaker, to facilitate watershed management. Mr Speaker, we group our watersheds into 10 hydrological basins that are further subdivided into 26 water management units. Future updates of the master plan will include the reassessment of the basins and the water management boundaries to reflect updated topographical and hydrological information.
So, Mr Speaker, this is effectively an audit of our water assets, our physical water assets, our natural water assets to make new determinations as to how they should be grouped, and how they should be managed. In terms of resource assessment, Mr Speaker, this refers to information such as exploitable water resources and water balanced summary. The former provides an estimate of the distribution of the estimated total average precipitation, while the latter refers to the amount of water that is available for use island-wide without negatively impacting water resources or the environment. This is what we would call the safe yield of water that we have; that is the amount of water that is required for all sectors island-wide, the total demand, and the amount of water that has been allocated for consumption based on the total number of valid abstraction license.
So, in going through this exercise, Mr Speaker, the government is literally doing a stock taking; how much rain we expect to fall through precipitation that would replenish our natural storage of water, how much water we are using for potable and non-potable purposes, and what would be our projected demand for usage in the future. So, this is a very important part of the national plan to ensure our water security.
We look at demand assessment; this provides information on the current water demand per water management unit. They look at sector demand, and we have been, Mr Speaker, making projections on water demand as far as up to 2080. So, this is a very useful tool, this master plan, for the future development of Jamaica based upon our water resources.
And then we do water resources monitoring, and this relates to the WRA’s current stream flow monitoring network and groundwater level observation network and the data from these networks provide the foundation for continued water resources monitoring and assessment on the national level. The plan outlines total consumptive allocation per water management unit, current and projected water available for consumptive allocation, and national water balance.
Additionally, it provides recommendations and suggestions for policy action towards ensuring the implementation of an effective integrated water resource management approach both in evaluating existing integrated water resources management initiatives and proposing additional initiatives. For example, the plans to establish Water Resource Management Councils.
Mr Speaker, I now turn to Water Harvesting Guidelines, which are also tabled with this document.
Mr Speaker, improved water storage, usage, efficiency, and conservation are imperatives to reduce demands on existing resources and infrastructure, reduce cost and reduce vulnerability to drought and the adverse effects of climate change. While there are some limited conditions and requirements associated with the subdivision and building approvals process for domestic water security, there are no specific requirements in law for the catchment of rainwater in Jamaica. Some municipalities are already recommending rainwater harvesting; however, we are now making national recommendations for all new residential, commercial, institutional, including schools, industrial and office buildings to be constructed with rainwater harvesting capabilities to augment potable and non-potable water supply.
Mr Speaker, as Jamaica is increasingly experiencing the effects of climate change, which is threatening the availability of potable water from single spring or river resources to meet existing and future demands, rainwater harvesting is a cost-effective solution to water shortages and water resiliency.
It is to be noted that section 61A of the Building Act of 2018 states that the minister may in relation to buildings or building work or any category of buildings or building work make regulations for water harvesting including requiring provisions to be made for the storage of rainwater runoff. The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development is in the process of finalizing regulations under the Building Act of 2018, which will include provisions for rainwater harvesting. The guidelines, Mr Speaker, that we are tabling today will provide the basis on which those regulations are made; it gives guidance for the regulations, and it will provide for the nationalization of rainwater harvesting.
Madam Speaker, the government has implemented already several rainwaters harvesting projects through various ministries and agencies, such as the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, the Ministry of Education and Youth, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Rural Water Supply Limited and the Rural Agricultural and Development Authority. And some of these programmes have been very successful.
In fact, Mr Speaker, I have visited several schools in which these rainwater harvesting projects have been implemented: very creative projects, Mr. Speaker. Several members of Parliament here would be able to identify some of them where they have converted the void underneath stairwells into storage for rainwater harvesting so many rural schools who are not connected to the utility would be able to have some water capacity to help with their sanitation needs. And indeed, may even oftentimes be used for potable water in your kitchen or for drinking.
Mr. Speaker, colleagues will recall that in my budget presentation, I had indicated that the government will distribute 50,000 water tanks across Jamaica to ensure that there is water resilience at the household level. Today, Mr Speaker, I am happy to announce that the pilot of the Rural Water Household Resilience Programme is ready to commence. The government is partnering with the IDB to distribute and install 3,400-gallon tanks with supporting infrastructure for rainwater harvesting in the constituencies which were hardest hit by the drought in the first six months of the year.
This pilot for the project has benefited from an IDB grant of 60 million Jamaican dollars to purchase the tanks. The Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation through the Rural Water Agency will provide funding for two hundred and fifty million Jamaican dollars to facilitate the coordination of the project and the deployment of water harvesting and tanks. The method of selection used the data from the Met Services and was also scrutinized by the IDB in approving the use of grant funding for the purpose of purchasing the tanks.
So, Mr Speaker, we didn’t just pull constituencies out of a hat. The selection of the constituencies were data driven and we had an independent partner who also scrutinized the data. The constituencies which will participate in the pilot programme are predominantly in the eastern part of the country. Well, it’s the drought… I knew I had to say this upfront because the question would come. So the constituencies which will participate in the pilot programme are predominantly in the Eastern part of the country and they include East and West St Thomas, East and West Portland, East and West Rural St Andrew, Southeast St Mary, Central St Mary, Western St Mary, then there is the Southern belt of St Ann which would include Southeast and Southwest St Ann, and then the hilly Northern belt of Clarendon including Northern Clarendon, North Central Clarendon, and Northwestern Clarendon; so those are the constituencies.
Remember now, this is the pilot. It is important, Mr Speaker, that these tanks will be distributed in areas which are outside of the utility footprint of the NWC, or in areas where infrastructure is significantly degraded and unable to provide predictable water supply.
Members of Parliament in these constituencies would have submitted 230 names each for recipients of these tanks. Mr. Speaker, the teams at Rural Water and the Social Review Committee will commence the rollout of these household rainwater harvesting systems and tanks next week. The same oversight process as a social housing programme will be used in assessing the recommendations. Each location that a tank is installed will be mapped and geotagged to ensure accountability but also to ensure we start the process of properly assessing our true national storage capacity for water.
But let me say a little bit more about the geotagging. It is going to be inevitable that we would have to supply if there is a critical and prolonged drought, that we may have to truck water. Once we have geotagged, then it is easy to create a dispatch system and a monitoring system for the trucks because we can tell them where the tanks are, and we can know when they go, and refill and we can have a kind of dashboard giving a dispersion where we know where the storage capacity is across the country. So, it’s not just a matter of keeping a track of the tank, but it will help us in having a much better system of dispatch for water when we have these prolonged droughts, and we must truck and distribute water.
Another important element of the project is the training component. Each member of parliament has further identified ten young persons who will be trained to do these installations by the Heart Trust NSTA and will receive a stipend for their work during the project. This is a very important part of the project. Mr Speaker, because as we move to, I hate to use the term ‘make rainwater harvesting compulsory’, but as we move to nationalize rainwater harvesting, nationalizing- everybody participates in it for the national benefit… Alright, we could use a better word, to socialize to make sure that everyone participates in it and benefit from it so as we move to have the kind of mainstreaming and national implementation of rainwater harvesting, Mr Speaker, the idea is that it has to be supported by an economy.
The government can do so much in starting it off by providing the tanks and providing the guttering and the training and knowledge to do it but after that, it is now up to the citizens to in their daily activities, especially those households who can afford it, to go out now and purchase their tanks, but to also have persons who are trained in this area who can provide the service and so what we are doing is stimulating an economy that will support rainwater harvesting.
Mr. Speaker, we are expecting that this pilot will be completed by the end of December. And once it is complete, we will move to expand the programme nationally to include all rural constituencies and indeed, I know that urban MPs are looking on with great jealousy so Mr Speaker, we will have to find a way to include the urban constituencies as well, but our strategy as a government, Mr Speaker, is that- and Jamaica can judge how we have implemented projects. We have taken on monumental projects, huge projects. To be fair, we have stretched the capacity of the administration to deliver huge projects without question, transformational projects.
My view, Mr Speaker, is that as the country grows, so too should its capacity and its pride in its own capacity to take on huge national transformational projects without making errors and without failures in delivery. One strategy we have employed in doing this, is that we have before we go into the large-scale implementation, we do pilots and we test first, we get feedback, and that feedback loop helps us in the design of the larger projects. And once we are satisfied with the feedback loop, then we scale up; that’s the strategy we have taken for example, with the NIDS. That’s the strategy we have taken with the New Social Housing Programme, and it is a strategy we are taking now with the water tank programme. And I’m certain, Mr Speaker, that this pilot, though it will be a few weeks, we will learn from it and so the mainstreaming of the national project will go seamlessly and efficiently.
Mr Speaker, this investment is one of many that the government is making in its quest for water resilience by 2030. Despite the known frustration that we all feel when there are water restrictions, this government is investing at an unprecedented rate in our water infrastructure, and that is without question. These investments include 21 major projects and 44 minor water systems being done in this fiscal year by the NWC. I however wish to remind colleagues that we are pursuing several major projects, including the Greater Mandeville Water Supply System. The members who are from Mandeville can attest to the improvement that citizens of Manchester, particularly Mandeville, have been receiving.
The Rio Cobre Water Treatment Plant, which will bring an end to supply issues in the corporate area.
The Members of Parliament from St Elizabeth will be particularly pleased with the Essex Valley Irrigation Scheme, the Pedro Plains Irrigation Scheme.
There is a project, Mr Speaker, which I am particularly pleased with and that is the National Non-Revenue Water Project. That project has increased the technical efficiency of the distributive system of the NWC. The NWC, prior to this project, would lose more than, I’ve seen estimates that suggested they lost more than 40 percent of their revenues in two ways. They lose revenue by producing the water and when I say produce the water, they must pay to treat the water, then they put it into their pipes and then there are leaks and these leaks sometimes are underground. They go undetected so they lose the revenue from that water that is leaking out, but they must pay for the cost of producing that as well. So, they lose on the treatment, and they lose on the electricity for pumping so the company, aside from all the other issues of investment, interest rates and so forth that they must face and the operational human resource efficiency issues, they lose from the technical operation of the company. And so, this project is an investment in technology and know-how to detect leaks early, even leaks that are not visible. And we have done a pilot of it in the corporate area and the results are amazing. I don’t have the exact figures here, but I believe so.
Mr Speaker, so we have saved incredibly from the National Non-Revenue Water Project, which we are now expanding into Portmore and other areas of Jamaica. And that, it not only will improve the balance sheet of the NWC, which we have seen a dramatic improvement in the balance sheet of the NWC, it means that every Jamaican now has more potable water in their pipes.
Another project which we have now moved from just a plan to now we’re almost ready to implement is the replacement of the major supply lines in Western Jamaica. And I know that Western Jamaica is under significant threat because those supply lines again, they are old, they can’t manage the demands on it. Some of them break ever so often. Yes, and significant areas of western Jamaica are without water for sometimes days at a time; we are aware, so we have made some budgetary allocations. We do have a project, and we’re going to go right through Western Jamaica and change out those major pipelines. Again, that is what you call a nation building investment in water. So almost two hundred and odd million US dollars’ worth of investment necessary to change out those pipelines.
Mr Speaker, the tabling of the new water resources master plan, particularly in the context of climate change, represents a monumental step forward towards sustainable environmental stewardship. This comprehensive plan acknowledges the critical intersection of water management and climate resilience and provides a strategic blueprint to navigate the challenges posed by a changing climate. The initiatives I have announced today not only address immediate water security concerns, but also lay a robust foundation for long-term climate adaptation.
Mr Speaker, this government is committed to the safeguarding and sustainable management of one of our most vital resources, our water, by outlining strategies for sustainable resource allocation, conservation and equitable distribution, the plan lays the groundwork for resilient and adaptive water infrastructure. This in turn catalysis economic growth and development by ensuring a stable and reliable water supply for agriculture, industry, and urban centres.
Mr Speaker, the master plan serves as a pivotal link between environmental sustainability, economic dynamism, and overall societal advancement. May it please you, Members. May it please you, Mr Speaker.