Sewerage Treatment Plants

The National Water Commission (NWC) operates some 50 sewage (wastewater) treatment plants island wide. The types of sewage treatment facilities used include oxidation ditch, activated sludge, waste stabilization pond and primary treatment. Central sewerage facilities are located in Kingston and St. Andrew, South-east St. Catherine (Portmore), Montego Bay in St. James, Ocho Rios in St. Ann, and Negril in Westmoreland.

In addition, the NWC has assumed responsibility for several small sewerage systems, which are associated with housing developments in various parts of the country.  Packaged sewage treatment plants are used to provide treatment of the sewage collected in these small systems.

The NWC has recently completed comprehensive sewerage systems for Ocho Rios (St. Ann) and Negril (Westmoreland) to meet the increasing need for sewerage services in these areas. Similarly, the Montego Bay system in St. James has been upgraded and expanded to meet the long-term requirements for sewerage in the second city.

Of all the 50 sewage treatment facilities, only Greenwich (built in the 1960’s), Western (built in the 1930’s) and the recently completed systems in Ocho Rios, Negril and Montego Bay were actually built by the Commission or its forerunner organizations. All the other facilities were built by various housing developers and subsequently handed-over to the National Water Commission for operation and maintenance.

Additionally, these sewage treatment facilities were all designed with specific, limited useful lifetime, usually of 20-25 years. It is to be noted that the vast majority of the systems now in operation have long outlived their design life.

The solution to the sewage problems therefore, does not lie in mere maintenance of the sewage treatment plants and the associated sewerage facilities but rather in replacement of the majority of these systems that are long past their design life expectancy.

Historically, the tariffs that have been afforded the National Water Commission have never allowed the NWC the opportunity to replace its aging infrastructure.  Specifically, with respect to the performance of the sewerage systems on an island wide basis, it is a matter of record that the systems in Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios account for about 40% of all the sewage collected and treated by the Commission.  It is equally a matter of record that these facilities consistently meet the regulatory standards for the majority of parameters except for occasional upsets from time to time.

With regard to the systems in Portmore, which have been the subject of recent criticism, it should be remembered that of the three main systems in the community, the Bridgeport and Independence City treatment plans are as old as the communities they serve – in excess of 25 years.  These systems need to b replaced and expanded in order to meet the demands of what is now the largest housing development in the country.

It should also be noted that while there have been complaints about the Bridgeport and Independence City facilities, there is no similar complaint with respect to the Greater Portmore system.  This is no mere coincidence as the Greater Portmore system is a facultative pond system, similar to those in Montego Bay and Negril.  Unlike the mechanical systems which were initially in places like Harbour View, Bridgeport, Independence City and countless other locations, the pond systems need no electricity for operation, is simple and inexpensive to operate and consistently produces effluent of an acceptable standard.

What the Ocho Rios, Negril, Montego Bay and Greater Portmore systems prove is that where appropriate systems are installed, NWC does meet the standards.  Where the infrastructure is inadequate, i.e. volumes exceeding design facility, (Portmore) equipment is outdated; or where the plant does not exist (Harbour View), we will continue to struggle to meet standards.

It is also to be noted that the National Water Commission will no longer continue to take over the operations and management of inappropriate, inadequate or otherwise defective wastewater systems from any developer.  Developers are therefore put on notice that any sewage treatment facility they construct must be appropriate or the NWC will not take over its maintenance and operation.

Regarding media articles the NWC has been berated for  “inadequate management of its sewerage portfolio” without acknowledging the positive performances of the Commission in locations where the evidence speaks for itself.  We are sure that the citizens of Montego Bay, Negril , Ocho Rios and Greater Portmore in particular, are gratified at the contribution made by the Commission in the improvement of their community.   It is most unfortunate that the said reports do not take note of the more than $3 billion recently spent on sewerage systems in these areas, representing the single largest sum of money ever spent at any one time on sewerage infrastructure in Jamaica’s history.

The long term-term solution to address sewerage related problems in Kingston and St. Andrew and sections of Portmore is the implementation of the Soapberry Sewerage Project. Preliminary designs for this project have been prepared. To address the immediate problems will require the implementation of a phase of this project. This will involve the construction of facultative ponds on some 100 hectares of land at Soapberry, the installation of over 10 km of trunk sewers and the construction of 3 major pumping stations. The total cost for this undertaking is estimated at just under 4 billion dollars.

For Harbour View, it will be necessary to construct a new sewage treatment plant at a cost of some $300M. NWC has in house designs for such a plant and, assuming that NWC is granted the tariff applied for, construction will take place.

Water Fact

If you use a low-flow showerhead, you can save 15 gallons of water during a 10-minute shower.