Posted: Thursday, August 8, 2019. 3:28 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: The Department of the Environment responded to our list of questions concerning what’s causing the stagnation and suffocation of the New River in one word, more or less: “eutrophication.” Eutrophication is the excessive richness of nutrients in a body of water, frequently due to runoff from the land. This excess nutrients causes a dense growth of plant life and results in the death of fish and animal life due to lack of oxygen.
There are several contributing factors listed as follows: tides affecting the flow of the river, making the river flow slower. In the Department’s words, the slower flow is “giving settable solids enough time to sink to the river bottom, trapping all contaminants entering the river system. This phenomenon is critical to understand because any major shock to the river such as disposition of runoff during the start of the rainy season, any medium or large boats traversing the system will stir up these contaminants which quickly change the water quality, affecting aquatic organisms.”
The Department, according to Environmental Officer Anthony Mai, has had its concerns for quite a while, as every year around April, fish kills occur, notably right after the first heavy rain. There is low dissolution of oxygen causing hypoxia, or what we might call suffocation, of fish. The major limiting factor of the river, therefore, is the lack of any flushing effect that would remove these contaminants.
Next is more than fifty years’ worth of runoff from multiple sources: agricultural, municipal and industrial, some of which is untreated. There is a mix of agrochemicals (pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers) from all the agricultural activity upstream; industrial effluent with high levels of nutrients including phosphate, nitrates and sulphates, and high levels of organic load such as BOD and COD; thermal water discharge and municipal domestic discharge from residential and commercial activity along the riverside with high nutrients, high organic load and microorganisms such as coliform and e-coli.
In 2019 specifically, northern Belize is under severe drought, causing the river to be abnormally low, concentrated and almost stagnant. In fact, July was the hottest month ever recorded for this region and the months of June, July and so far in August have been abnormally dry.
Notably, DOE absolves L & R Liquors of involvement and records that L & R Liquors does not discharge any effluent into the New River. For some time now, L & R Liquors agreed to treat its effluent at a ten-acre pond located away from any major water body. BBN has also confirmed that L & R is using ‘Green Clean’ technology, a natural treatment system which is used to treat wastewater properly.
The DOE indicates that it will speak and meet with other manufacturing businesses, including BSI, to discuss measures to protect the river. Over recent years, the DOE has been working closely with BSI and as such the company has instituted many improvements to their facility including their wastewater treatment system. The meeting schedule with BSI is to discuss additional measures that should be put in place to further help protect the river.
In their own statement, BSI/ASR said, quote, “…we continue to monitor the river, through internal and external mechanisms regularly, as is required under our Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP).”
The DOE also said that it will meet with the Orange Walk Town Council to obtain all the Trade License issued for commercial activity in the municipality. The DOE will then extract all the commercial activities along the New River and conduct investigations of their wastewater discharge. Corrective measures will need to be put in place for each commercial activity. The DOE will request the assistance of the Town Council and Public Health Department with this initiative.
In the long term there will be a watershed management program for the New River, with assessment of all activity, discharge and areas of concern for run off, as well as monitoring water quality, pesticides, heavy metals correlated with climatic data such as monthly rainfall, tidal variations, etc. It is expected that stationary data loggers along with different sampling methodologies will be done. The result of the monitoring program will assist with the identification of critical issues that must be addressed with possible solutions.
It is expected that the program will be developed and implemented with key stakeholders such as the University of Belize, Coastal Zone Management Authority, Orange Walk Town Council, Public Health Department, Corozal Town Council, private sector and civil society.
Chief Executive Officer with responsibility for Forestry and the Environment, Percival Cho told reporters that a public consultation will be held in the near future.
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