Climate
JM | Nov 11, 2020

WATER WOES: Heavy rainfall poses more problems for NWC

/ Our Today

administrator
Reading Time: 4 minutes



While drought and the impact of COVID-19 have been contributing factors to the National Water Commission’s (NWC) recent operational and financial difficulties, the surfeit of water during the past two weeks of heavy rain have only piled on to the utility company’s problems.

During a recently held press conference, NWC President Mark Barnett, responding to issues around the management and performance of the company, said a weak flow of funds has prevented it from providing optimum service.

“Like all businesses, when your revenue and your cashflow from all your customers drops, it affects how your creditors are managed, meaning those regular accounts payable requirements are also affected,” Barnett said as he addressed the fall-off in payments from customers during the COVID-19 pandemic which has contributed to $2 billion in lost revenue.

“And so, you will find that it creates delays in getting certain things done.”

Mark Barnett, president of the National Water Commission.

The NWC boss said the massive dip in tourist arrivals, islandwide job losses and the stagnant economy have been major contributors to the company’s beleaguered performance of late.

During a period of the country’s COVID-19 spurred lockdown, Barnett saw an almost 40 per cent drop in revenue and had to take the decision to cease assistance and give back packages that were supposed to be a boon to customers during these hard times. Collection levels are now at 80 per cent for a given month, which is not adequate to support the NWC’s operations.

Senator Aubyn Hill, the chairman of the NWC, has said that many of the country’s pipes were laid decades ago when the British administered Jamaica as a colony and that there needs to be comprehensive work done to the islandwide pipe network. He has consistently called for a J$5-billion project to put new pipes in place.

A National Water Commission team on the ground relocating a section of pipeline along the Gordon Town main road in St Andrew on November 10. (Photo: Facebook @NWCjam)


Now, the recent heavy rain brought on by tropical storms as the hurricane season lingers, will have impacted infrastructure including pipes, filtration and treatment apparatus, adding further stress to the overwhelmed utility company.

CUSTOMERS MUST CHECK THEIR OWN LEAKY PIPES

Customers have also regularly complained about leaks and Barnett is calling on them to check their pipes, making it clear that the NWC is in no position to incur heavy expenditure in such repairs.

“A lesson to learn – the longer the leak remains unattended, the worse it becomes. Therefore, I am encouraging everyone to pay keen attention to these situations because NWC has to look within its own business model and make a decision as to whether it is something that we can give a concession on,” said Barnett.

Many pipes will come under severe pressure at this time and the NWC can expect a barrage of reports of damage and leaks.

The NWC is caught between a rock and a hard place in that it operates  a public utility which requires high working capital and is weighed down by heavy operating costs while being the subject of public complaints but cannot turn to the government for financial assistance at this pressing time.

“When rainfall washes nitrogen and phosphorous from human activities like agriculture and fossil fuel combustion into rivers and lakes, these waterways are overloaded with nutrients and a phenomenon called ‘eutrophication’ occurs.”

Science magazine


According to National Geographic, excessive rainfall that leads to an intensifying water cycle “can substantially overload waterways with excess nitrogen runoff – which could near 20 per cent by 2100 – and increase the likelihood of events that severely impair water quality.

“When rainfall washes nitrogen and phosphorous from human activities like agriculture and fossil fuel combustion into rivers and lakes, these waterways are overloaded with nutrients and a phenomenon called ‘eutrophication’ occurs”, finds a study published in the reputable magazine, Science.

One solution to the NWC’s problems which is again gaining traction, is privatising the country’s water supply because the government cannot sustain the continued losses and place resources in instituting more effective management and infrastructure.

Aubyn Hill, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.



Hill, the new minister without portfolio in the Ministry of  Economic Growth and Job Creation, favours going private, saying it is the best way to secure the US$3.5 billion needed to address the country’s water requirements. He believes that the NWC’s debts cannot be a burden on the government’s books.

“We are going to look for a special investor who can manage water and bring money to the table and encourage other investors to invest in the entity,’’ announced Hill.

The business journalist Ralston Hyman has expressed concerns with this, believing that the country will be at the mercy of a rapacious private company who will control an essential resource. Not only that, it can hike rates, fail to implement drought mitigation, adopt draconian policies for disconnections and make paltry investments in infrastructure.

A National Water Commission team on the ground relocating a section of pipeline along the Gordon Town main road in St Andrew on November 10. (Photo: Facebook @NWCjam)

 Back in 2015, Barnett said he did not want to see the state-run utility company run as a private concern and that he held the view that water is a public commodity not subject to the diktats of private ownership. However, he did concede that private businesses could invest in water infrastructure projects.

“The NWC can stop being a loss-making entity through reducing internal inefficiencies such as cutting losses through leakages, changing old infrastructure and getting more customers to pay their bills,” said Barnett.

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