Somerset Falls disappears - Gushing waterfall attraction dries up in Portland
Somerset Falls, the picturesque waterfall flowing amid a lush fern-filled garden, has fallen victim to the dry times.
Once a captivating sight with its deep blue waters cascading gracefully over towering rocks and forming inviting natural pools along its path to the sea, Somerset Falls now presents a starkly different scene. The once vibrant waters have vanished, leaving behind desiccated soil and forlorn ferns, painting a pitiful picture of the once-thriving waterfall.
"It is a very bad situation facing us here at Somerset Falls," said Carlene Miller, assistant manager at the once highly used Portland attraction. "We have to be turning away people, as the river has simply dried up."
The warning signs, including 'slippery when wet', remain posted despite the dry conditions facing the once picturesque facility where the depth of the water was 28 feet in some areas. Activities including the main attraction, a boat ride on the river, have been halted.
"It is affecting business in that there is not much income presently, and we still have our bills to pay. However, we still have a little activity that goes on the weekends. So Saturdays and Sundays we still have the swimming pool and the water slide. But to be honest, [it is] less persons that come here now. We still have most of the staff coming in on the weekend," she added.
According to Miller, the drying up of the river may have started in April when the traditional rainfall did not happen. Water levels became so low that the marine life and ecology of the river were seemingly under threat. She pointed out that the absence of rainfall also resulted in zero inflows to the river.
"The guests are disappointed when they get here and we give them the news, but it is an act of Mother Nature. It is the worst that I have seen and it is climate change, and it is real. Regrettable, we have let some of our workers, like the lifeguard, stay home, and to some extent, rotate them. But it is really a challenge. We are praying and hoping for rain to come, which will allow for us to resume normal operation," she added.
Jamaica has been experiencing a meteorological drought. In March, de facto water minister Matthew Samuda said that Portland, which traditionally receives high levels of rainfall, is now the driest it has been in Jamaica's history. In May, the minister told Parliament that parts of eastern Jamaica are experiencing a hydrological drought, which has resulted in low water levels in rivers, streams, and reservoirs. He said the last time Jamaica experienced a hydrological drought was in 2014-2015.
At Somerset Falls on Thursday, the only readily visible sign of aquatic life were tilapia in a mini pool. Another mini tank, which has dried up, tells the painful story of how some of the fish perished due to severe conditions.
Tony, who sells jelly coconuts close to the entrance of Somerset Falls, pointed out that since April, the number of persons turning up to enjoy the offerings of the facility is quite noticeable. He also said they make a quick U-turn when they realise that the river and falls have dried up.
"It really rough over deh. Bus drive in wid people and less than five minutes later dem heading back out. It has been like that for months now, because di rain nah fall. Some of di guest dem would stop by and buy a jelly from mi too, so mi kinda lose out too. However, mi really depend pon the traffic that goes by, so mi still a survive," he said.
Portland resident Robert Wilson pointed out that other rivers in the Hope Bay area of west Portland are drying up like Somerset Falls, as a result of what he termed as the human element.
"Dem dump garbage all bout inna di river dem and dem use poison also inna di river to kill fish," said Wilson, who added that this has been happening "year in, year out".
"Finally, things start to change. And no rain naah fall. A just climate change a mash we up and now no rain naah fall fi full up back di river dem. We need to wise up and start to treat the rivers and the environment better," he said.