In a long anticipated municipal water supply application in Jamaica, installation of vertical turbine pumps to take water out of the ground and boost it over area hills has brought running water for the first time to two rural communities.
This new water supply project will improve the health and the economic outlook of these communities by providing clean, potable water at the tap. The project will ultimately offer water to more than 29,000 people in 13 communities. The communities, however, will be in charge of their water consumption.
Economics of water supply
The rural parish of Westmoreland lies in southwest Jamaica and includes the town of Withorn and Darliston as well as many other small towns. The people in these communities in the eastern portion of Westmoreland—far from the tourist center of Negril—haven’t had potable water for decades.
Abe Hernandez, international sales manager for the company supplying the pumps, said, “With the closest water source 12 miles away, and the communities 1,200 feet above where the water source is, the economics of bringing the water to these communities proved difficult to overcome.” In fact, water supply plans for Westmoreland have been on the drawing board since the 1950s. Hernandez continued, “Can you imagine a community in the 21st century where almost 30,000 people are without water? And this in an area with great growth potential for tourism and industry!”
Apparently the government of Jamaica couldn’t imagine a future for these communities without a modern water supply either, and embarked on a project to supply the area. Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean. It’s 144 miles long and 49 miles wide, with major industries based on tourism, agriculture and bauxite mining. Jamaica is famous for its music, beautiful beaches and jungle mountaintops and clear waterfalls. It’s also very hilly and mountainous, which makes infrastructure development such as water supply systems difficult to build.
In earlier days
Prior to the implementation of the water project, the main supplies of water for the communities in eastern Westmoreland were a well at Withorn and the nearby Flanders Pond, and the latter source was subsequently abandoned. Since then, water had to be trucked into the area and deposited in a catchment tank. From there it was gravity-fed to a pumping station that distributed it into small pipelines. This method of supply, however, was woefully inadequate and very expensive. In addition, water trucks often brought expensive bulk water directly to residents. According to school officials in the area, the arrival of these trucks often disrupted school because of the need for students to help their families collect water as the trucks arrived.
With full funding from the Jamaican government, the National Water Commission (NWC) of Jamaica began construction of the Darliston Water Supply System in 1998 as a major effort to improve the water supply in the parish and to better serve communities such as Whithorn and Darliston. According to Hernandez, “They needed to revamp water supplies to an area that had insufficient water supply because of very old and inefficient equipment.” In addition, more people were moving to this area, so the demands on the water supply system were building up. The NWC hired Carib Engineering to do the design work on the water project. Carib specializes in determining future needs of infrastructure systems, taking into account long-term development of the area to be served. Once Carib designs and oversees construction of the water project, the commission takes over the existing facilities.
Higher pressure needed
The products specified by the engineering firm for this job were to be all vertical turbines. Because this rural area is so hilly, with the need to boost water over steep hills and small mountains, the only practical pumps for this job were vertical turbines that produce more pressure than horizontal pumps. “This is what we do well at the company. We have the highest efficiencies in this range of pumps, so we provide the lowest total cost of operation, an important part of total life cycle cost,” Hernandez said, “The engineering firm, being focused on the future requirements of the customer, needed to specify a pump that took into account the total cost of ownership.” The high cost of generating power on an island nation where most energy must be transported to the island made excellent energy efficiencies of these particular pumps another practical benefit for the engineering firm and commission.
A supplier for the system piping and another representative noted efficiency of the new water supply system. Clinton Thompson, of Sunshine Pumps & Supply, explained that the system was fully remote controlled, with no operators needed at each station. Computer monitoring allows the system to sense levels at each station. When water falls below a certain level, pumps turn on automatically. The four pumps at each station are on 100 percent standby, with two different pumps working each new cycle. According to Thompson, this procedure will help extend the working life cycle of the pumps. He also noted that the soft-start motors will help keep maintenance costs down.
Paying for system upkeep
Although construction of the water supply project was funded entirely by the Jamaican government, users will be expected to contribute to expenses for running and maintaining the system. Prime Minister James Patterson said, “People are going to have connections into their yards and into their houses. It comes at a cost, and is not free.” In an analogy meant to communicate the value of water, Patterson said, “Thieving a goat is not less than thieving water.”
The water scheme will be self-supporting with a payment system based on the ability of the individual consumer to pay. Even those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder will be entitled to running water through monthly ration cards. Water usage to all homeowners and commercial users will be determined through water meters to be installed with government financing. The overall plan is to charge enough from users in the area to maintain the system well into the future.
“There is no human activity that can be conducted in the absence of water,” Patterson told residents at the official opening ceremony in Darliston. “Therefore, you cannot measure the value of water simply by calculating it in money terms. You have to look at it in social terms, what it means to our schools, what it means to our health system, and what it means when it is causing young people to move away from rural communities.”
Long history of water supply
History records that the first ever piped water supply system for the Western Hemisphere originated in the town of Falmouth, Jamaica, in 1799. According to a World Health Organization study and UNICEF, the percentage of Jamaica’s rural population with access to clean, potable water today is 59 percent. This contrasts with 81 percent in urban settings on the island. The Jamaican government has stated its support for a program that would supply universal access to water for all Jamaicans by 2005 (see In Search of a Winner). This is a tall order, but one where the current administration is committed. One government document noted, “We must remove, once and for all, the spectacle of our women and children carrying water on their heads for long distances. We believe in the people’s right to have adequate water supplies and we will not rest until we have completely satisfied this objective.”
The next phase of the Darliston Water Supply scheme will involve laying of distribution lines to other communities over the next few months. The system will then join up with other systems at Whitehouse and Three Rivers to provide a more integrated water supply system. The project will serve an estimated 29,000 people. For comparison, only 800 people in the area were receiving water when the project began. In addition to the Darliston Water Supply scheme, several major water supply and wastewater projects are currently under way in Jamaica. Taken together, these projects will represent an expenditure in excess of $5 billion.
This area of Jamaica can now depend on good quality, high-pressure drinking water for the foreseeable future. Over 29 communities will be served by this water system. Because this locale is a prime spot for the development of tourism, the vertical turbine pumps are helping the local economy and inhabitants by providing clean water as well as a key piece of the infrastructure needed for sustainable development. As for the value of the project to the Parish of Westmoreland, Hernandez said, “It’s nice to know that these pumps are going to help change the lives of so many people.”
About the author
Steve Minett heads Minett Media, of Cambridge, England. Minett Media is an independent editorial production and placement agency, covering companies such as ITT Industries, Waterlink, Kemira Kemwater, and Alfa Laval AB. This article refers to 14-stage vertical turbine pumps from Goulds Pumps, an ITT Industries subsidiary. He can be reached at +44 1954 230 250, +44 1954 232 019 (fax), email: [email protected] or website: http://www.minettmedia.co.uk.