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Department of Environment Meets with Public about the New River

he conditions of the Belize New River dominated our news last week as it is resulting in fish kill, a horrible stench in the north and health challenges for residents.  On Friday night, the Department of the Environment held a public meeting to discuss the issue.  According to DOE, they are aware of the situation but they are lacking resources.  Residents, however, are not accepting that explanation.  Love News reporter, Naim Borges attended the event and filed this report.

On Friday August 23 the Department of Environment held a public meeting with residents of the Orange Walk district to discuss issues impacting the New River. The department identified the cause of the river conditions as eutrophication which causes algae to overpopulate in the river, blocking sunlight entering the water and leaving oxygen levels below normal. The department noted that many entities are the cause of these excess nutrients and pollutants entering the water. During the public meeting, the Department of Environment spoke of many ways on how to resolve the issue impacting the New River; one of them being the implementation of a watershed management plan. A watershed is an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins, and seas. 

Abel Carrias, DEO Presenter

Abel Carries, Presenter: “I really think it is important, based on the work that we are doing in the Belize River Watershed, to develop a management plan for this river and why is that? Because the management plan can be done in a consultative way whereby all stakeholders including all of us, including the government, including academia, including the farmers, including BSI everybody can come together to develop a plan that will ensure that we start managing this river system in the best way possible. A management plan is important because it does several things. One, it gives us an opportunity to be able to determine what is happening fully in the river- we have some data but we don’t understand fully what is happening. Secondly, it helps us to identify all the problems because eutrophication is just one problem. The next step is to actually seriously visit with communities throughout the watershed and get input from those communities to revise that plan to ,develop a plan that works for everybody and to move forward with trying to implement that plan and to do so cooperatively as much as possible; it’s not like a force of law it’s more like a collaborative cooperative process and through that effort that’s how we make forward motion here.”

After the two and a half-hour presentation, the public was allowed to ask questions and give suggestions based on the information received. Many expressed their gratitude for informing but some were not satisfied and had many questions.

Senator Osmany Salas, Friends of the New River

Osmany Salas, Friends of the New River: “You have a huge job. You have limited resources however when you look at the law, you look at the environmental tax act, and you look at the Environmental Protection Act which creates an Environmental Management Fund the Environmental Tax Act states that the proceeds of that should go into a fund “to clean up rivers and canals and for strengthening the Department of the Environment.” My question is if it could be addressed.”

Percival Cho, CEO Department of Environment

Percival Cho, CEO, Department of Environment: “Of course the resources are never enough, I take Senator Salas’ point about the environmental tax. Some time ago as chair of the EMF board we had requested from the Ministry of Finance permission to begin to look into the environmental tax and getting a greater share of that, that push will continue and I’m hoping that with the obvious realization that the challenges before us are just going to get greater and greater as our population grows, as climate change begins to impact us, that the message will be a bit clearer and stronger and hopefully we get a positive response sometime soon.”

Kent Novelo, Friends of the New River

Kent Novelo, Friends of the New River: “I saw no data about heavy metals, nonchalantly perhaps mercury was thrown in there, not good enough. It is an established fact, I’m not pulling this out of the air, there is a direct relationship and correlation between heavy metals and human disease. Question number one; why not, why are you not producing information with regards to heavy metals? Question number two; is there any coordination between this department and the Ministry of Health, some sort of protocol mechanism to investigate, to study, to report these types of diseases.”

The department stated that they did not have all the information pertaining to the New River as little research has been done before. Therefore they must work to improve the gathering of information. Others also complained about the Department of Environment accepting ASR’s sampling from the river as evidence in their investigation as it may be biased. The Department Stated that the study and testing of the river is a joint operation between the department and companies who have the equipment to test the waters and all testing must follow a protocol.