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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my water supply disrupted when it rains?

Water supply service to some customers of the National Water Commission is sometimes disrupted during or after periods of heavy rains for a number of reasons. This is usually most common in the case of customers who are served by small water supply systems that get their water from surface sources – i.e., rivers and springs – that get very muddy whenever it rains heavily. With these muddy or highly turbid conditions, the water systems may either have to be temporarily shut-down, or be forced to put out less treated water than they would under normal conditions. 

In other cases, the rivers when in spate result in the intakes becoming blocked with stones, sand and other debris. In some instances, these problems cannot be corrected until the rivers recede or the natural conditions improve. These particular problems do not normally affect water systems supplied from wells, which account for more than 60% of the water supplied by NWC daily.

Another problem that is associated with disruptions after heavy rains is damage caused to pipes by overflowing rivers, gullies, landslides, etc., preventing water from getting to the treatment plant or disrupting the flow on the way to customers.

Additionally, the likelihood of electrical failures (both in the public power supply and at the NWC facilities) increases during rainstorms due to a variety of reasons including power fluctuations and lightning strikes, among other things.

Another contribution to water supply service disruptions after heavy rains is the fact that rains often prevent or delay the completion of routine repairs and maintenance activities, thereby extending the downtime for facilities.

While these are all part of the reality with which the NWC has to work, wherever possible, every effort is being made to reduce these vulnerabilities and risks. In all cases of unavoidable disruptions, the NWC does all it can to restore water supply service in the shortest possible time. 

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What is done by NWC to repairs the roads that it has cut?

Whenever the National Water Commission (or contractors working on our behalf) are forced to excavate in road surfaces, the NWC is committed to reinstating that area at least to the condition in which it was found.

To achieve this and to avoid problems experienced in the past, the NWC has a contractual arrangement with the National Works Agency (NWA) in which the NWC pays the NWA to complete the final reinstatement to the required standards. For this arrangement to work smoothly, the NWC has gone further and established a special bank account with $5M being reserved solely for this purpose.

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Why does the NWC dig up roads?

Regrettably, in the process of providing or maintaining service to our valued customers, the National Water Commission sometimes is forced to cut into or excavate sections of roadway. This is usually necessary to either lay new water or sewer pipes, or to effect repairs to existing underground infrastructure. If the NWC does not do this then new customers would not be able to get service, underground leaks would not be repaired (causing further damage to roads and the water systems), and disrupted service to existing customers could not be restored. At no time will the NWC excavate road surfaces if it is not necessary.

Unlike other utilities, working in public roadway is not an option or choice for the NWC. Water and wastewater pipes have to be laid underground and there is no other practical way in which NWC can access and maintain its water and wastewater network but to sometimes cut the roads. In each case that we do so however, NWC is committed to do its best to repair and restore the area that it has cut.

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How does water bill compare with other bills and water bills elsewhere?

The average water bill is usually less than half the average electricity bill or the average telephone bill. This is so despite the fact that electricity costs make up a major part of the cost of supplying water!

Water charges from the NWC are also among the cheapest in the region; it costs less than half the water charges from the average water supplier in the United States; and more than 1,000% less than the cost of bottled water.  This is so despite Jamaica’s hilly terrain and the difficulties of supplying water to far-flung, variously populated areas.

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What’s The Relationship Between Water Supply And Electricity?

Especially in a country with Jamaica’s hilly terrain, the supply of water is heavily dependent on electricity. In order to get water to our customers the NWC has to pay over $200,000,000 per month for electricity alone.
The dependency on electricity is not only seen in the high costs. In order to serve our many customers over many hills and across numerous valleys, the NWC has to operate nearly 500 major electrical facilities each day. Since it is neither economical nor feasible to have full standby generating capacity for all of these electrical facilities, water supply is affected whenever there is a disruption in the public power supply.

Water supply may also be disrupted when there is low voltage or even single phase supply. Short disruptions in the public power supply may also have enormous impact on the water supply as the entire system may become drained of water, need to be checked and re-started, and gradually recharged.

A short electrical outage may therefore disrupt the water supply for a longer time afterwards. Similarly, a disruption in power supply in one area may nonetheless disrupt the water supply in an area that still has electricity.

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What is Turbidity?

Turbidity is related to the amount of sediments a river or stream carries in the flowing water.  Most sediment is soil that is removed from the land by erosion.  Sediments also arise from the surface runoff from farms, industries, roads and housing developments.  When sediments run into rivers or streams, it becomes a source of water pollution. 

During and after rainstorms, water that runs rapidly off mountain slopes or hillsides can pick up high levels of sediments resulting in high turbidity.  Turbidity degrades the quality and quantity of raw water.  During periods of high turbidity, water treatment is sometimes impossible or very difficult; therefore, the treatment plants are sometimes shut down until the water clears up. In addition, the plants may also be shut down to prevent damage to the facility and equipment as a result of the heavy mudflows.

Most important, higher turbidity levels in the untreated water may be associated with higher levels of bacteria and other disease-causing microorganisms.

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How do I request a Service Connection?

Am I responsible for rates even though my premises is rented?

Yes, water rates are charges to the property (similar to taxes) and the land-owner always bears responsibility.

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How is my account billed?

All accounts are billed monthly, based on meter readings or an estimated consumption. Your water bill consists of the following components:

Your water bill consists of the following components:

What does PAM represent on the water bill?

PAM is the acronym for Price Adjustment Mechanism. This is a mechanism built into the water supply tariffs to essentially reflect changes in foreign exchange rates, fuel charges and an approved CPI (Consumer Price Index). It is monitored by the OUR and may either go up or down. See Definitions

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Leaks appear to be such a waste of water across Jamaica. What is the cause of all this and what is the NWC doing about it?

Leaks are mainly caused by deterioration of pipes due to age, pressure from heavy traffic, earth movements, direct damage from persons hitting the pipes, and sudden fluctuations in the pressure within the pipes.

Many of the pipe networks inherited by the NWC are very old and therefore leak easily. The NWC continues to effect emergency repairs while, whenever funding allows, some of these pipes are replaced. Dozens of leaks are repaired daily.

The Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) Water Supply Rehabilitation Programme represents one major project under which pipes are being replaced. In keeping with the policy objectives, 90%-95% of all reported leaks are repaired within 5 days of being reported. We aim to improve this to 100%.

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What is Non-Revenue Water?

Non-Revenue-Water (NRW) is better defined as Unbilled Water (UBW) because it is an estimate of the amount of water that is treated/produced by the NWC, but for which no bills are generated or revenue received.

It is not the same as leakage or wastage. This estimate includes water used at fire hydrants as well as water loss due to theft and illegal connections, water used at unmetered connections, non-functioning metered connections,  overflowing tanks, as well as leaks.

Who is responsible for fire hydrants?

The Jamaica Fire Brigade owns, operates, and is responsible for fire hydrants in Jamaica. The NWC connects hydrants to the water supply systems on behalf of the Fire Brigade and the respective municipal authorities. The NWC is only responsible for the SUPPLY OF WATER to these facilities.

• I sometimes see water seemingly being wasted from a hydrant. What does the NWC have to do with this?

You may have seen water gushing from a hydrant even though it is not leaking or malfunctioning. You are most likely seeing what we refer to as flushing.

This may appear to be a waste of water, especially in the dry season, but flushing is an important preventative maintenance activity.You will occasionally observe our Water Production personnel conducting this exercise which is simply the release of water from hydrants to remove sediment and excess air from the pipes in order to maintain the quality of the water that we supply.

Customers in the immediate vicinity of the flushing exercise may experience temporary discoloration of their water, which is primarily because of the presence of silt and air. This discoloration is harmless. It does not affect the safety of the water and will clear after the tap is allowed to run for a few minutes.

Hydrants are also routinely opened for flow testing exercises that are carried out by the Jamaica Fire Brigade. This is done to ensure that hydrants are effective in the event of a fire. The NWC is not responsible for maintaining hydrants.

While the National Water Commission uses hydrants in maintaining the integrity of its water network, it neither owns nor has responsibility for their operation and maintenance. This responsibility falls with the Jamaica Fire Brigade. The role of the NWC is to ensure that water is supplied to hydrants for firefighting services. However, in the interest of curtailing water wastage, the company occasionally assumes the role of maintaining some leaking hydrants.

If you suspect that water coming from a hydrant is not as a result of the NWC’s flushing activities or the Jamaica Fire Brigade’s flow testing exercises, contact us!. Submit a Leak Report through any of the following channels:

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Why is the water sometimes discoloured – brown, reddish-brown or black – and is it safe for drinking?

Piped water may be discoloured due to the presence of certain minerals or chemicals in the water, or due to high levels of turbidity at the treatment plant, or as a result of a break in the water main.

It may also be caused by scouring within the pipeline, due to sudden increases in pressure such as after a disruption.

Discolouration may also be caused by the age of the pipes on the premises. In most instances, the discolouration will go away if the water is allowed to run for a while. If discolouration persists, customers are advised to report it to the NWC for it to be investigated by the NWC laboratory. In nearly all instances, the discolouration is only a nuisance with no direct health risks.

Portmore manganese ‘Blackwater’ problem

NWC is working at correcting the manganese or ‘blackwater’ problem sometimes affecting customers served by the Government Park Wells in Portmore. This problem often worsens after power outages or other disruptions.

The presence of manganese is not a health threat. However, as a naturally occurring mineral it is a serious nuisance and is therefore undesirable.

Several things are already being done by NWC: to correct the problem:

  1. An expensive but very helpful chemical treatment is now being applied to control the level of manganese.
  2. Frequent flushing of the water system is being done to remove manganese particles.
  3. Steps are also now being taken for a permanent and comprehensive solution to the problem under the KMA water supply rehabilitation programme.

In severe or prolonged cases please call the National Water Commission at toll-free 1-888CALL NWC.

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What are the main causes of water supply disruptions and why can’t the NWC provide a more guaranteed continuous supply of water?

Water supply disruptions may be caused by a number of things. These include exceptional weather systems or natural disasters, drought conditions or prolonged dry spells, electrical or mechanical failures at either the treatment plant, the pumping stations or elsewhere on the system.

Disruptions may also be caused by broken mains, civil unrest, strike or vandalism as well as lock-offs to facilitate preventative maintenance or effect emergency repairs. Many of these causes are beyond the control of the NWC.

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Drinking water often looks cloudy when first taken from a faucet and then it clears up. Why is that?

The cloudy water could be caused by tiny air bubbles in the water similar to the gas bubbles in beer and carbonated soft drinks. After a while, the bubbles rise to the top and are gone.

This type of cloudiness occurs more often in the winter, when the drinking water is cold. Another cause of cloudiness in cold water comes from calcium. In certain waters, the nontoxic chemical calcium carbonate will precipitate when it is cold. As it is white, this precipitate can cause the water to look cloudy.

In this case, however, the particles settle to the bottom (usually in about 30 minutes) in contrast to the air bubbles discussed above that rise to the top of the water fairly quickly. Water with calcium carbonate precipitate in it is perfectly safe to drink or use for cooking, though it may be unappealing to look at.

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Why does my water bill show a service charge?

The service charge is a fixed charge applied to each bill depending on the size of the service connection. It is aimed at covering a portion of the NWC’s cost of maintaining water supply to the premises for use by the customer.

These costs continue to be borne even when the customer is not actually using the water. The service charge is therefore applicable regardless of the amount of water consumed on the property.

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What can I do if I have a complaint or am not satisfied about something within the NWC?

A customer who has not received satisfaction after lodging a complaint with the front-line Customer Service, Control Centre or Call Centre representatives is advised to take up the matter with the respective Customer Service Manager or Area Manager, the Community Relations Manager at each Divisional Office, or the Corporate/Head Office. If still not satisfied, the customer may contact the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR). Also see GSSC

What does my water bill pay for?

Your water bill pays for the cost of supplying you with the quantity of water consumed. This includes the cost of collecting, treating and distributing the potable water to you. Among these costs are treatment chemicals, electricity costs, labour costs and the costs of pipelines and other infrastructure.

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What activity in my home uses the most water?

Toilet flushing is by far the largest single user of water in a home. Most flush toilets use about 4 to 7 imperial gallons (18 to 28 litres). Without counting the watering of lawns, typical percentages of water use for a family are:

What is being done by the NWC and other entities to address the problem of pollution caused by sewage?

At the end of 1998, the NWC was responsible for the collection, treatment and disposal of approximately 25% of the sewage generated in Jamaica. Since then, that capacity has nearly doubled with the completion of new sewerage schemes in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Negril and the extension of sewers along Hope Road in Kingston. The objective of the Government of Jamaica is to have all major towns centrally sewered by 2020.

There is also a need to do major rehabilitation of existing facilities. However, both the rehabilitation and new projects are extremely costly and for this, major funding has to be sought. One such project is the Soapberry or Flow West Project for Kingston that is estimated to cost over US$400M in total. See Wastewater

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Where does my drinking water come from?

There are two major sources of drinking water: surface water and groundwater. Surface water comes from lakes, reservoirs, and rivers. Ground water comes from wells that the NWC drills into aquifers.

An aquifer is an underground geologic formation through which water flows slowly. Some wells are relatively shallow – 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 meters) deep; others are much deeper. Springs are another source of water. Springs begin underground as groundwater. When the water is pushed to the surface and flows out of the ground naturally, it becomes a spring.

The water then may flow over the surface of the ground as surface water. More than 60% of Jamaica’s water supply is from underground sources.

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How does the quality of water in Jamaica rate in comparison to other countries in the Caribbean and the world?

Jamaica’s water quality standards are monitored by the Ministry of Health and are in keeping with international guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). In fact, Jamaica’s water quality is rated as being among the best in the world, and many cruise vessels collect water ONLY IN JAMAICA while on voyages in the region. Jamaica is one of very few countries where the water can regularly be drunk straight from the tap.

In addition to the treatment being done at treatment plants, daily water samples from across the island are collected by the NWC and tested at its two laboratories. This further ensures the quality of the water being supplied.

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Is the use of Asbestos-Cement pipes a threat to my health,and what is the Commission’s policy on this?

Asbestos-Cement pipes are pipes made from cement with asbestos – a naturally occurring mineral – added to make them stronger. Studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other health research bodies have not shown any linkage between the use of Asbestos-Cement pipes and any health problems, including lung or gastrointestinal cancer. As a result, these pipes continue to be used in water supply systems around the world, including Canada and the USA.

However, it has been proven that certain types of asbestos fibres (not the type used in pipes) may contribute to the development of lung cancer. This may occur from a combination of a number of factors, which include the release of asbestos fibres into the air, usually in enclosed spaces during the mining and manufacturing processes, and the inhalation of large quantities of these fibres over many years.

This has led to much public concern. As a consequence of these concerns, not related in any way to drinking water quality, the NWC’s policy is to use Asbestos-Cement pipes only in sewerage systems and to replace those existing in water supply systems whenever they are broken.

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What is the K-Factor?

The K-Factor is an OUR approved percentage charge that appears on the bills of NWC customers and is used to fund the implementation of an approved set of capital projects in order to improve service to customers. The percentage charge varies from year to year based on the OUR’s Tariff Determination.

The K-Factor is not new, having been used to fund a meter and pump replacement programme in 1999 and designated to fund NRW reduction and sewerage improvement and sewerage expansion essentially since 2008 with revisions in 2013.

K-Factor is also used in many other countries and in many different utility services, under a variety of names.

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What is X-Factor?

A related factor to the K-Factor is the X-Factor. The X-Factor is essentially an efficiency-gains calculation that is passed on to the customer on the assumption that the K-Factor investments would have yielded financial benefits to the NWC. The X-Factor represents a credit on customers’ bills reducing the billed amount monthly.

The K-Factor for September 2014 to September 2015 was 14%, before which the X-Factor of 5.5% was deducted. The K-Factor for September 2015 to September 2016 was at 14% but the X-Factor rose to 9.7%.

Water Saving Tip

Check household faucets for leaks. A faucet with even a slow drip takes 10 to 25 gallons of water. Just think, 15 drips per minute add up to almost 3 gallons of water wasted per day, 65 gallons wasted per month, and 788 gallons wasted per year!