10 Most Asked Questions About the Water Supply in Jamaica
by Deon Clarke | Associate WriterPhoto: Water from the tap in Jamaica
Water – a precious commodity that we all can’t do without. Have you ever been so thirsty that just a few sips of water make a huge difference? Or feel so hot and sticky that you just want to stand under the shower for a long while or better yet, soak in a large bubble bath? What would you do if there was no water available for a week, a month, a year? It is no wonder that it is said, you can live for days without food while having adequate water, but not the other way around. Water is life. And here in Jamaica, the land of wood and water, life is abundant.
But, how much do you actually know about the Jamaican water supply? Let’s take a look at the 10 most asked questions about water in Jamaica.
- Is There Fresh Water in Jamaica?
Absolutely! Jamaica's freshwater is derived from two sources- surface water and groundwater. Surface water sources include lakes, rivers, streams and estuaries. Groundwater sources are from empty spaces in rocks and sediments such as wells and springs.
- How Clean Is the Water in Jamaica?
A 2005 report from studies by the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona, have revealed that some of Jamaica's waters are highly contaminated by nitrates. The higher values are mostly found in the central and western parts of the country where agriculture is practised on a more regular basis.
The report pointed out that half the water in the Liguanea basin which serves the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew has also been contaminated by nitrates.
The document also showed that potable water is also being affected by nitrate pollution such as contamination of mineral fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides which seep into surface and underground waters. Unregulated dumping of sewage, industrial wastes and toxins coupled with the improper use of rivers and other water bodies, also cause pollution and threaten one of our most valuable resources - our water.
From this report, it was revealed that over 20% of people are dissatisfied with the quality of their water, particularly in the parishes of Hanover, St. Mary, St. Ann and Clarendon. The complaints from citizens included bad taste and smell, discolouration, and deposits in the water.
The highest percentage of people reported discoloured water and that was a major problem. Following this, the NWC stepped up its water quality screening efforts to quantify the level of Nitrates, Discolouration, Alkalinity, Chemical Oxygen Demand and many other things of concern in the water.
They now follow a five-step process; Screening and Aeration, Coagulation and Flocculation, Sedimentation and Disinfection
Some hotels, namely Sandals and Beaches have their own water filtration plants on the resort properties.
Jamaica’s water quality stands among the best in the world. The raw water quality in Jamaica is generally good across many locations on the island and it is not tainted by some of the pharmaceuticals and chemicals found in the water in some countries. A number of cruise ships that visit Jamaica also get their supply of water only from Ocho Rios in Jamaica. Hotels, namely Sandals and Beaches have water treatment plants on property to filter the water at their resorts.
- Is Tap Water In Jamaica Safe To Drink?
The National Water Commission (NWC) maintains a very vigorous programme to ensure that there is no compromise of the water quality that it supplies to Jamaica’s population and complies with the WHO standards. So yes! The tap water in Jamaica is pretty safe to drink.
The WHO produces international standards or norms on water quality and human health, in the form of guidelines that are used as the basis for regulation and standard setting, in developing and developed countries worldwide. With these guidelines, safe drinking water does not present any significant health risk over a lifetime of use.
Jamaicans have long held the view that Jamaica’s water is better than that of many other countries. Travellers to the island also hold local water supplies in very high regard, stating that there are very few countries where the water can be consumed from the tap without risking stomach discomfort or worse.
- What Are The Sources Of Water In Jamaica?
As mentioned earlier, the primary water sources in Jamaica are:
- Surface water sources: such as lakes, rivers, streams and estuaries.
- Groundwater sources: such as the empty spaces in rocks and sediments- wells, springs
- Rain Water Harvesting – stored in dams and household tanks
- How Is Water Used in Jamaica?
In Jamaica, you will find that water is used for numerous purposes such as:
- Household consumption- drinking, sanitization, bathing, car wash, plants, animals, lawns
- Agriculture – Irrigation and Animals, sanitization
- Schools – consumption and sanitization
- Business places- sanitization, consumption
- Hospitals- consumption, sanitization
- Churches- consumption, sanitization
In essence, you will find that just about anywhere that people gather, water is used, whether for drinking or sanitization.
- How Is Water Stored in Jamaica?
Having access to the resource is just as important as storage. Many times restrictions have been placed on certain uses such as watering of lawns when the levels run low. At other times, persons have to suffer the inconvenience of lock-offs.
The water in Jamaica is stored in dams or reservoirs, wells, parish tanks by the NWC. Water stored for personal use is kept in household tanks, drums, bottles and just about anything that can hold water. This practice is especially seen in rural areas.
- How Many Jamaicans Have Access to Potable Water?
You will find that about 98% of Jamaica's urban population have access to potable drinking water. In the rural areas, this falls to about 88%. These numbers have not shown any significant changes over the past 10 years.
While the numbers for potable water availability are relatively high, you will find that the numbers for piped water access are significantly much lower. Only about 45% of Jamaicans in rural areas have access to piped water. In urban areas, about 70% of its population has piped water.
- Who Provides Potable Water in Jamaica?
The National Water Commission (NWC), established under The National Water Commission Act of 1980, is a statutory organization that bears the responsibility of providing over 190 million potable water and waste-water services in Jamaica. It is the only supplier on the island and produces potable water for the majority of Jamaicans. The NWC is known to operate and maintain more than 4,000 km of pipelines and over 500 km of sewer mains across the island. Although Jamaica has many rich water resources, the uneven rainfall distribution creates some amount of challenges in supplying water to the drier areas of the country.
- Does Jamaica Export Water?
The National Water Commission (NWC) sells water to the ships which dock at Jamaica's ports. The company is quite adamant that the profitable business of selling potable water to the ships in no way affects its water supply to Jamaicans. Additionally, the market for Jamaican bottled water has significantly increased both locally and internationally over the years.
In a nutshell, yes Jamaica exports water.
In 2017 Wisynco Group Limited, a major distributor made plans to double its water export due to the demand which was significantly more than carbonated drinks possibly due to its promotion of health benefits.
- How Much Water Do Jamaicans Consume?
According to research commissioned by the NWC, water consumption per person per day for Jamaica is an average of 172 litres across all income groups. The majority of this consumption occurs in the bathroom. That’s quite a lot without considering other uses! While the amount of water used can vary depending on personal habits, for a typical single-family home in Jamaica, water usage can range from 3,000 to 5,000 gallons per month.
I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say “water is life” and we must all do our part to protect this great resource through conservation. Not only that, it costs!
I also recommend you read Jamaica All Inclusive Resorts Our Top Picks!
- Archives, Jamaica Gleaner,http://old.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20070520/news/news1.html
- Jamaica Information Service, https://jis.gov.jm/jamaicas-water-among-the-best-quality-in-the-world/
- National Water Commission, https://www.nwcjamaica.com/
- University of the West Indies,https://www.mona.uwi.edu/physics/sites
- Water and Sanitation, Commonwealth of Nations, https://www.commonwealthofnations.org/sectors-jamaica/business/water_and_sanitation/
- Wisynco Exports Wata, Jamaica Gleaner, https://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/business/20171227/wisynco-export-more-wata
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