Clear as Crystal Punch: The History of Piped Water in Jamaica

The old Martha Brae water wheel. (Photo courtesy of the Gleaner)

A little known fact is that Jamaica is one of the first nations in the Western Hemisphere to develop a piped water supply system. From as early as 1766, Roger Hope Elleston, owner of the Hope Estate, constructed an open aqueduct to carry surplus water from his property to the then town of Kingston. The system fell into a state of disrepair and its operation was eventually discontinued in 1777. After that, one of the first-ever piped water supply systems in the Western Hemisphere originated in the town of Falmouth, Trelawny. With Martha Brae River as its source, in 1799, the Falmouth Water Works Company was established, to supply the town of Falmouth and visiting ships. Falmouth was, therefore, the first town in Jamaica to get a piped water system. The Falmouth Water Wheel is a monument to this historic fact.

The water wheel at Falmouth Water Works. (Photo courtesy of The Gleaner)

Today, the National Water Commission (NWC) is the primary producer of potable water in Jamaica, supplying more than 2 million persons with water service daily and half a million of those persons with waste water services also. Jamaica’s original Taino name, ‘Xaymaca’, literally means ‘land of wood and water’. This is an apt description as the country abounds with natural vegetation and over 100 rivers – not to mention the network of more than 160 underground wells, over 116 river sources (via water treatment plants) and 147 springs. These water bodies provide a convenient water source, which is treated by the NWC. The NWC supplies approximately 70% of the nation’s households with piped water directly. The other 30% of the population obtains water from standpipes, water trucks, wayside tanks, community catchment tanks and direct access to rivers and streams.

Jamaican piped water is of such excellent quality, it is as good as (-and is said to taste better than-) bottled water from other countries. In fact, from 2012 to 2014, Jamaica won the prize for the country in the Caribbean region with best quality drinking water at the Annual Water/Wastewater Association Conference. Other Caribbean nations do not enjoy as many sources of natural fresh water, and have to use desalted sea water, which is not as palatably pleasing.


Source: The Gleaner Newspaper Archives