Citizen Action Urged to Prevent Bushfires and Preserve Water Resources

The Water Resources Authority (WRA) is imploring increased vigilance in preventing bushfires to safeguard the country’s water resources.

Managing Director of the entity, Peter Clarke, said citizen action is “critically important”, particularly given the current drought conditions.

He noted that bushfires have an adverse impact on the island’s watersheds, causing “crippling, long-term, adverse impact on water supply,” which affects the amount and quality of water available for domestic purposes.

“They create increased erosion so that when we are gathering water, we… probably [can’t] take that initial water into reservoirs because the sediment level is so high. This is created by the conditions that the bushfires would have set up, and so it leads to increased treatment costs, diversion of water that could have been collected,” he pointed out.

Mr. Clarke was addressing a recent press briefing hosted by Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Hon. Desmond McKenzie, at his Hagley Park Road offices in Kingston on measures to tackle the increasing number of bushfires across the island.

The Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) reports that human action is largely responsible for these fires through burning of garbage, clearing of land for planting or careless disposal of lit cigarette butts.

Data from the JFB show that there have been 1,968 bushfires since the start of the year.

During active burning, ash and contaminants settle on streams, lakes and water reservoirs. Vegetation that holds soil in place and retains water is burned away, and rainstorms flush vast quantities of ash, sediment, nutrients and contaminants into streams, rivers and downstream reservoirs.

The absence of vegetation in the watersheds also creates conditions leading to erosion and flooding, and other negative environmental impacts.

Mr. Clarke noted that the bushfires are affecting rivers that are largely served by the Blue Mountains and the Juan de Bolas Mountain.

“Most of these fires that we are having, they have been on the slopes – the St. Andrew slopes, the St. Thomas slopes, the St. Mary slopes, and I have heard the Portland slopes [as well as the St. Catherine area]. So, there is a direct correlation [in] the fact that we are not having rain and the fact that the water is going low. That means that the plant life is also experiencing that deficit, and so we have the tinder dry situation that we have,” he outlined.

Emphasising that arresting the occurrence of bush fires requires an all-of- society effort, Mr. Clarke urged members of the public to commit to protecting the island’s water resources.

“All of us have one common goal and that is to preserve the sustainability of our environment. We have to urge all of our friends and neighbours to cease and desist from igniting fires because the harm to the watersheds, they impact the water resources.

“We all have to support this; we all have a responsibility. Fires are not to be lit in a deliberate and careless manner and we can make our watersheds and our water resources much better if we just act responsibly,” he pointed out.

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