Fixing a Leaking Sewage Plant

November 2010

Who wants to think about what happens when you flush the toilet?  A visit to Jamaica’s Harbour View Sewage Treatment Plant back in the 1980s prompted ELAW partner Diana McCaulay to leave her work in the insurance industry and launch the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET).

“The sewage flowed everywhere, foamy and malodorous, carrying untreated human excrement right into the sea,” says Diana.

Now, more than 20 years later, residents of Harbour View, a seaside community west of Kingston, can rejoice: The court has ordered the National Water Commission to fix the leaking plant!

Diana writes: “In 2005 we asked the community, Will you go to court with us?  They thought about it.  And they said no.  Folks were afraid – they or their families worked for the Jamaican government, they feared victimization, they didn’t trust the courts, and they knew it would take years.  By then, it had become The Way it Was – if you lived in Harbour View, you smelled sewage, you didn’t use the beach and if your kids disobeyed you and went into the sea, they got sick.”

Diana never gave up on Harbour View, and eventually, citizens went to court.

ELAW helped JET establish two key elements to make the case for repairing the sewage treatment plant.  First, ELAW helped show that the plant discharging untreated sewage could cause people in the community to suffer from gastrointestinal diseases.  Second, ELAW helped JET show that the costs of repairing the plant would be affordable.

The court has approved a settlement ordering the National Water Commission to repair the plant.  An interim sewage treatment facility is already under construction.

The sea will be cleaner, the air will be fresher, and citizens will be healthier.

Congratulations JET!