DOE comments on condition of the New River and the way forward

Friday, August 9th, 2019

The Department of the Environment (DOE) has an established Water Quality Monitoring Programme on the New River. Data collected on July 19, 2019, at five sites – four between the Toll Bridge and San Estevan Bridge and one near San Estevan Village – revealed several areas of concerns that negatively impact this aquatic ecosystem. The present situation is most likely eutrophication caused by several factors. The data shows that nutrient levels are high at these locations with sulphate showing a visible spike. Additionally, the dissolved oxygen levels are low and algae count is currently being analysed by the DOE, with all indicators suggesting a high count.
The northern districts of Belize are relatively flat which causes the New River to be characterized as a tidal river. This means that the flow of the river is affected, in terms of direction and speed, by the tides. The flow of the river is extremely slow giving solids, including organic substances, enough time to sink to the bottom, trapping contaminants such as heavy metal, pesticides, etc. entering the system. This phenomenon is critical to understand because any major shock to the river from runoff during the start of the rainy season or any medium or large boats traversing the system will stir up these contaminants which quickly changes water quality, affecting aquatic organisms. This is the main reason why every year, fish kills occur along critical areas of the river. Another major factor of the river is the lack of any flushing effect that would remove these contaminants.
The Way Forward
The DOE will meet with key industrial and commercial facilities along the New River to discuss measures to protect the river. The Belize Sugar Industry (BSI) is one of the main facilities. 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 scheduled with BSI/ASR is to discuss additional corrective actions that must be put in place to further protect the river and to deal with the eutrophication that is occurring at the point where their effluent is discharged.
L & R Liquors, which is next to the sugar factory has not discharged any effluent into the New River since mid-2017. In mid-2017, the DOE approved a plan that discontinued the discharge of wastewater into the river. The plan entailed the removal of the effluent by truck and treating it at an off-site location away from any surface and groundwater system and which is suitably sized to allow maximum retention and photo-oxidation.
The DOE will also collaborate with the Orange Walk Town Council and Public Health Department to identify all other commercial activities along the New River and conduct investigations of their wastewater discharge. Corrective actions will need to be put in place for each commercial activity, where necessary.
Development of a Long-Term Monitoring Programme
The DOE has discussed with key partners, the expansion of its current monitoring programme of the New River to a more comprehensive watershed management programme, which will include an assessment of all the discharge and abstraction points along the river, an assessment of all the commercial activities along the river and identification of areas of concern from agricultural runoff, etc. The management programme will also include a long-term water quality monitoring programme, including pesticides residue, heavy metals correlated with climatic data such as monthly rainfall, tidal variations, etc. The result of the monitoring programme will assist with the identification of other critical issues that must be addressed.


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