Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie | Why Montego Bay floods

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The recent rains and flooding in Montego Bay reminded me of a project I worked on four years ago that required me to walk along North Gully, one of three major gullies in Montego Bay. Heavy rains had caused major flooding in the city, and the authorities were trying to identify the primary cause(s) and possible solutions. It was not the first time Montego Bay had to deal with flooding, but with increased development taking place in the urban centre, the impact this time around was particularly devastating.

As I toured the gully, I noticed that despite the recent rains, there were mounds of garbage in the gully, primarily plastic bottles and diapers. There were also sections where garbage was left by the receding flood waters, entangled in shrubs, tall grasses, and the lower branches of tall trees. Houses, bars, shops, and garages crowded the length of the gully, and in some sections, housing was extremely dense. The gully looped in different directions, sometimes wide, sometimes very narrow, sometimes concrete, sometimes just bare earth. There was a flood gauge in one section that the community could use to monitor the height of the water to know when it was too dangerous for them to remain in their homes. The houses in this particular area were literally right against the banks of the gully. Despite being repeatedly affected by the overflowing waterways, numerous residents said this was all they could afford and they had been there for many decades.

FLOODED MULTIPLE TIMES Over the last two decades, Montego Bay has flooded multiple times, with major flooding taking place in 2007, 2016, 2017, 2021, and more recently in April 2022. Significant flooding also took place in 1985 and 1993. Each time flooding occurred, there was a flurry of discussion by those in charge. Sometimes there was the blame game: it’s the improper disposal of solid waste; it’s the design of the gullies.

On my walk through this watershed and the surrounding communities, in conversation with several key community leaders and residents, and in reviewing reports, I learnt the following:

• The Montego Bay watershed has four major water courses. Three of these, Salt Spring Gully, North Gully and South Gully, are natural streams, but their lower courses have been trained, armoured, and concreted. These three gullies have been the primary source of flooding in Montego Bay.

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LINK ORIGINAL: Jamaica Gleaner