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Aug 26, 2019

Orange Walk residents demand full commitment from the DOE to rescue the New River

An estimated five hundred persons came out on Friday night for the first public consultation on the state of the New River in Orange Walk Town. Now, we have been reporting that the condition of the river has been getting so bad that residents say it is worst it has ever been. Pesticides, fertilizers and other harmful substances that flow into the river have led to eutriphication. Massive fish kills have been reported as well; all which impact the health of the communities and their livelihood. The Department of the Environment was on hand for the consultation where residents were clamouring for a plan of action. Dalila Ical reports.

 

Orlando de la Fuente, Concerned resident

Orlando de la Fuente

“If you are telling us that we are all responsible, why don’t you require that of us. Why don’t you go to Maracas, go to the Town Council, go to the tortilla factory and say hey, you are causing this. This is how much you are responsible for in causing harm to the river, because recommendations won’t get you anywhere. They are not a requirement. The long and short of it is, just like how probably BSI wants to do their part, the community wants to do it too. We need to be led. Give us the requirement. Tell us what the parameters are.”

 

Dalila Ical, Reporting

At the well attended public meeting last Friday, residents and interested parties hoped to hear more than recommendations from the Department of the Environment. It was their hope that the Department would present a definite plan of action.

 

It’s become an important matter to many residents, since over several months this year, the health of the New River has been gradually deteriorating and today is in the worst it has ever been.

 

Dr. Ed Boles

Dr. Ed Boles, Environmental Consultant

“The river is very overloaded with human generated forces of pollution and that’s from industry, that’s from agriculture, that’s from Urban people, that’s from bank side residents, that’s from all of us that are using…every that flushes the toilet, everybody that uses resources, we are all contributors to that.”

 

The Department prepared presentations that looked at the scientific causes affecting the New River, though no precise data exists to pinpoint what is killing the ecosystem. It also presented data on the river’s water quality and looked at the regulatory actions taken to monitor companies located along the river, the Belize Sugar Industry being the biggest.

 

Anthony Mai, DOE Representative

Anthony Mai

“The New River is one of the rivers that is least studied form an environmental standpoint. The Department of the environment realizes that we need much more information. The last slide I presented shows that we need to do an environmental quality assessment of the New River. It is within this assessment that the heavy metal, the pesticide concentration in water and in sediment will be taken. We are not claiming that we have all the information, we do not. We wish we would have more information of the New River but we don’t. The plan then, with this in mind and knowing that we don’t have the information, is to put something in place to get the information. The data shows that the water quality is at its lowest right in front of BSI. We are not here to hide any information. We are here to present the facts. The issue is that there are several contributing factors to the reason why the river is the way it is.”

 

According to the information presented, agriculture is possibly one of the largest culprits. With little to no monitoring in place, pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals wash into the river. This is one factor that causes Eutriphication. This is when too many minerals and nutrients are introduced into a water body depleting oxygen. Human waste, detergents and industrial discharges also contribute to this process.

 

Adding to these, the river is stagnant, compounding the situation.

 

Dr. Ed Boles

“There is just not enough water coming through the system to push the water out and as result things start to build up and we begin to see a lot of accumulation as organic material start to break down all the oils and waxes and other things tend to drift to the surface.”

 

Residents are taking the Department to task.

 

Senator Osmany Salas

“The farming is what worries me as much as the other things that have been said. If we look at the water shed map of the New River from Shipyard, San Carlos, Indian Church area, almost all the to just south of Orange Walk Town, it is all agriculture. If we look at the map of the New River water shed, maybe only five to ten percent we still have forests standing. We have created that. We have created that problem and when I say we I mean from the politicians, our decision makers, the fact that we are not monitoring properly.”

 

Anthony Mai

“The department, we will definitely need to do more, be more vigilant looking at the agricultural activity up by Shipyard and that entire area. I agree with you, I have it noted and these are some of the things when we develop our annual plan we need to put things in place to address some of these.”

 

Last week, massive fish kills were reported in the Tower Hill area and a strong stench continues to lurk over several communities located near the river. The health of these communities is also concerning.

 

Dr. Kent Novelo

Dr. Kent Novelo, Concerned Resident

“I have to say I am a bit disappointed in that I saw now data about heavy metals. Nonchalantly mercury was thrown in there. Not good enough. It is an established fact, I am not pulling this out of the air, there’s direct relationship and correlation between heavy metals and human disease. Question number one. Why not? Why aren’t you producing information in regards to heavy metals? Question number two. Is there any coordination between this department and the ministry of health, some sort of protocol, a mechanism to investigate, to study, to report these types of diseases?”

 

Recommendations include a focus on best management practices among farmers, enforcement of regulations and a plan to protect the water shed.

 

Aldo Cansino, DOE Representative

Aldo Cansino

“Currently we are continuously pitching that idea with a regional project. It is ongoing and hopefully we will open a door that will allow us or springboard that management plan further.”

 

And while the general sentiment of those in attendance was that the department must do more, there was also a willingness to help.

 

Lourdes Saldivar

Lourdes Saldivar, Concerned Resident

“The people will be willing to work with you. We want to be full partners with you. We want to be full partners with the town council and any other parties who are willing to work and I believe all of us are.”


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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