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Aug 5, 2019

New River’s Health Declining; Residents Call on D.O.E. To Take Action

A boat ride up the New River in Orange Walk shows large scale stagnation and discoloration of the waters along a seventeen-mile stretch from the villages of Carmelita to Trial Farm. The condition of the river, which is a main source of income up north, has deteriorated to a point that it has become lifeless primarily due to the lack of rain this year and dumping. Wildlife has been impacted and fish kills are reported even as residents endure the stench of the unhealthy river.  This morning, the media was invited to get a first-hand view of how bad the situation really is. Residents are calling out the Department of the Environment to find a solution to the problem. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo reports.

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

The majestic New Rivers cuddles Orange Walk Town on the east. The milky-green colour of the river makes for remarkable scenery. But the strangely green color displays an unhealthy river. The discoloration and stagnation of the New River occur every year, but this time around it has become worse. At around March everywhere, the town’s residents would notice the discoloration and smell a piercing stench. In June, the rains would then act as a natural solution, pouring into the river and removing whatever is causing it to become sick. But this year, little rainfall means an unhealthy river.

 

Errol Cadle

Errol Cadle, Owner, Lamanai Eco-Tours Limited

“Because this year we are having a drought in the country of Belize it is a lot worse than what we’ve seen in many years. For at least three months now, this river has been really bad. I have travelled up and down this river. I like to do a lot of fishing in this area. You won’t see the tarpons rolling anymore. You won’t even see the crocodile in this area. It is really, really bad.  It starts in the months of March, April, May. June, we would usually get the rainy seasons that starts and it would all flush out and it goes away. This year unfortunately there is no rainy season so it is just lingering on in the area.”

 

Hipolito Novelo

“Is it the worst?”

 

Errol Cadle

“It is the worst I have ever seen since doing my tours up in the river.”

 

Errol Cadle owns and operates Lamanai Eco-Tours Limited located along the banks of the New River. He says that the health of the river is declining so rapidly, it is affecting the wildlife. Numerous fish kills have been reported in the past few months.

 

Errol Cadle

“If you notice there is nothing. Not even the crocodiles are around because there is not food in the area. In my area fish are still dying. This is why we had a lot of birds in the area in the morning. But it is all dead now.”

 

The river’s illness stretches an alarming seventeen miles, from Carmelita Village along Orange Walk Town to Trial Farm Village. Concerned resident, Giovanni De La Fuente took the media on a tour to witness firsthand the declining health of the New River.

 

Giovanni De La Fuente

Giovanni De La Fuente, Concerned Resident

“So we could see the difference from what is ahead of the section of the river and the area that is currently being affected. We went upstream for a couple of miles and we noticed that the color of the river changed. Then we started coming back downstream and we encountered this milky green situation. Along the way we visited behind Carabeef, L and R Liquors and behind B.S.I./A.S.R.  Then we were behind the actually Orange Walk Town. After Orange Walk Town we continued into a direction like to Corozal to see how far it was that the river is being affected. Obviously it was miles and miles of the same situation so we turned around and we came back.”

 

The New River is crucial to Orange Walk town and its people. It is not only its main water source but an economic driver. Deputy Mayor Ian Cal joined the tour.

 

Ian Cal

Ian Cal, Deputy Mayor, Orange Walk Town Council

“The stench itself is affecting everyone. The businesses, the tourism industry, the hotels, the restaurants these are all industries in Orange Walk. These are all businesses that are being affected; the people that fish in these waters every single day. It is so unhealthy that you do not see any fishes around, any crocodiles around and I would not even encourage people to go and swim in the water at this point.”

 

Giovanni De La Fuente

“In this time and age, can you imagine an entire population of a town receiving water from this situation? Our pumps in Orange Walk Town are very close to the river. We are using the water from this river. Imagine the hundreds of people that depend on this river to catch fish, turtles and other wildlife so that they can consume and they can sell.”

 

Ian Cal

“This year it has gotten worse, we have never seen the river how it is this year. Anything that this water touches, even the water lilies, the fish are dying, plants are dying. So it is something that is in this river that is killing the wildlife and flora and fauna.”

 

So what exactly is making the river ill? As part of the tour, the media was taken to several points were several businesses and factories dump waste into the river. L and R Liquors, Carabeef and B.S.I./A.S.R., the largest factory along the river, were the main focus.

 

Giovanni De La Fuente

“I saw the water being poured into the river but I don’t know what the quality of the water is. I have testing equipment, no testing material. The Department of Environment is being paid to perform these duties. They need to test the waters consistently. They need to test the wildlife consistently and then they need to make their findings available to the public and if it is a manmade catastrophe well then this case should be in the court.”

 

Reporter

“At the very least, there seem to be multiple causes of what is happening.”

 

Giovanni De La Fuente

“Well, you know optics. But optics are different from scientific evidence so I can’t tell you who is to blame. I can’t even cause aspersions on who is to blame for the situation.”

 

A brief statement from B.S.I./A.S.R. states that the company places great value on being an environmentally-conscious and responsible corporate citizen.  It says, “Through our partnership with the Department of the Environment (DOE), we continue to monitor the river, through internal and external mechanisms regularly, as is required under our Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP).”

A couple of weeks ago, the Department of Environment conducted research in the area after the fish kills were reported. Samples were collected and tested but the reports have yet to be shared. One would think, that with a yearly problem such as this the Department would have identified the root causes and worked to establish a solution. Today, the concerned residents are putting DOE in the hot seat for reportedly dragging their feet in addressing this matter.

 

Errol Cadle

“I’ll like the Department of Environment to do their job, to come in and seek out the culprits because that is their job. They should be doing it. They should be thinking about a healthy river for the people of Orange Walk.”

 

Ian Cal

“Until today we have not gotten any response as to what were their findings in these industries or what did they see because we can’t just go in to these businesses and look around but they have that mandate to do so. So we are waiting on that. For me personally is has taken too long. Every year this happens and we have never gotten a report as a town or as local government itself. I believe that they can come and share reports or results and saw this is what is happening with the river.”

 

Giovanni De La Fuente

“I just need to burn fire on the Department of Environment. This gets me upset. I become emotional; I can’t help. The Department of Environment is out of hand. They need to address the situation and address the people  of Orange Walk Town so we can know what is going on. Is the water safe? Should we consume the fish? Once we have done that then I believe that other pressure groups should step up and light a big fire under the Department’s seat so that the Department can identity who is the culprit, if there is a culprit. What I am against is the lack of movement from the Department of Environment. They have a whole town consuming this water; we don’t know what is the state of this water. They have people consuming wildlife. We don’t know what the state of the wildlife is. So, the department of so the Department of Environment please step up, get going, do something!”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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