US$209-million fix for water ‘pain point’

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Prime Minister Andrew Holness has provided details of an ambitious US$209-million water project for north-western parishes, which he anticipates will address one of the pain points undermining some residents’ quality of life.

On Wednesday night Holness spoke of the role technology will play in the North Western Parishes Reliability and Service Improvement Project, which will include pipe repairs as well as improvements in supply at some plants.

“We are going to do the Martha Brae and Great River water treatment plant expansion. We are going to do water transmission main replacement; the Negril pipe line repairment from Ruseas to Orange Bay, Logwood, in Negril; the Montego Bay pipeline replacement from Martha Brae water treatment plant to the terminal storage tank. We are going to do the Falmouth water supply refurbishment and renewal; we are going to do the Savanna-la-Mar water supply refurbishment and renewal;and we are going to do three small potable water treatment plants in Cambridge in St James, Two Meetings in Manchester, and Moravia in Manchester,” Holness told attendees at a town hall meeting in Montego Bay, St James, on Wednesday night.

“I just wanted to say to the people in these north-western parishes who may be saying, ‘Nothing nah gwaan fi water’ — another pain point — we hear [you]. We appreciate it, we take the cussing, we understand but we are using the economic benefit, the stability and growth of the economy, to convert that into meaningful benefits for you,” he explained.

“This is the first time in a long time that any Government will be able to take on these massive capital expenditure without necessarily borrowing to do so. Now, if that is not a change in our circumstances as a people then I don’t know [what is],” the prime minister added.

His update follows an earlier mention of the project by minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Senator Matthew Samuda. Speaking during July’s commissioning of the upgraded Martha Brae Intake by National Water Commission (NWC), Samuda announced plans to pump more than US$200 million into projects to upgrade water supply systems across four western parishes over the next four years. The move, he said then, is expected to help unclog economic opportunities within the region.

Samuda had also noted that the $100-million Martha Brae project was included in the wider US$200-million initiative that will span “the edge of Trelawny to the eastern edge of Westmoreland”.

“We are going to ensure that the commercial opportunities that exist for the people of Trelawny, for the people of St James, for the people of Hanover, for the people of Westmoreland, can be leveraged. We can’t build the houses that we see coming without the water. We can’t build the hotels that we know want to come, the 20,000 rooms that want to come — everybody wants to come to Jamaica — without the water,” Samuda said then.

On Wednesday night the prime minister, who conceded that “water is a major challenge”, noted that much of the pipes that make up the distribution system in Jamaica are antiquated and in need of replacement — something that requires huge investment.

“I get the complaints all the time, people saying, ‘I have been there for 50 years and I have never had any water. Not a pipe run up here.’ I want you to just walk with me for a little while with this water problem,” Holness appealed.

He assured residents of Montego Bay that their parliamentary representatives have been bitterly complaining and vigorously agitating for improved water supply on their behalf.

“They have been bringing to us the situation in Montego Bay where the main pipelines have collapsed — so you don’t have, in some of the communities, a reliable water supply,” Holness stated.

He sought to explain the wider issue — infrastructure — that dates back to the 1900s.

“Jamaica’s water infrastructure was mostly laid in the ’50s and ’60s, some in the ’70s, and incrementally. Much of it is old and leaking,” he said.

While there is an abundance of water, the prime minister stressed that the difficulty is in getting it to the people.

“The challenge we have is how to make the water potable — meaning drinkable, healthy for you — and how to move the water from where it is to where you live. So, those are the two problems. So one is the production and the other is the distribution of water. To do that requires massive investments in infrastructure,” Holness added.