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Department of Environment details steps to improve condition of the New River

The Department of the Environment (DOE) has been working to alleviate the polluted conditions of the New River in Orange Walk. Residents have been concerned for weeks over the murky appearance of the river and the awful stench it emits, along with the fishes and crocodiles that have died. Today, Chief Environmental Officer from the DOE, Martin Alegria, spoke to us about what the department is doing to resolve the issue.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer, Department of Environment: “We set up gear now, emergency gear such that during the course of this week we are looking at immediate actions that are needed. I think starting tomorrow if I’m not mistaken we will be cleaning up the dead fish and all those solids that are actually out there contributing to the stench, that is the immediate one. Secondly, we are trying to develop, this week too apart from that cleanup we are looking at satellite imagery, some reports we have had in the recent past about land use from the Lamanai Lagoon itself down to far past San Estevan area to see what contributing factors there are that are causing part of the problem. Over ten, fifteen years ago we started working on that New River situation not only with BSI but many other players that would be what we call point sources of pollution, BSI being the biggest but you also had at that time other contributing factors. We started working with them and with BSI but they are just a few of the many contributing factors and when I say a few we also have upstream of the bridge we have agricultural runoff and those have been occurring as long as BSI has been there too. There’s a silent contribution being done by these agricultural runoffs and those are what I was telling you through the GIS satellite imagery we are trying to see where these major sources are coming from. Agriculture is one but you also have activities of the town itself, I mean fifteen years ago let’s say we were about 20,000 people in Orange Walk town and surroundings now easily it’s around 30,000, 40,000 so the more population the more contribution.”
Another issue Belizeans up north have been worrying about is the ongoing drought. Alegria also told us how that has been affecting the river.
Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer, Department of Environment: In the past before this year’s incident or last month’s incident for years we have noticed that every time we have the first major rains, we call it the September rains, climate is so messed up now that the rains are unpredictable. But let’s say it was the first major rains of the season we used to have that stirring effect of that river bottom with all the runoffs and that contributed to this same eutrophication fish kill where the water becomes anoxic and the fish die. But this year has been very much more out there. There a few contributions and drought is one of them, the temperature rise because of the drought, lack of water and the high temperature just basically exacerbated that situation that now we are seeing for the past two or three months the effects that we have never seen before because of the climate that has changed a little. Yes I think Saturday we had a big rain that came down in Orange Walk and we have seen a big difference between Sunday and yesterday, and we have seen a nice brown, it’s not that yellow-green and so on now it’s brown but it is still a polluted environment. Before environmentalism that type of environmental consciousness and awareness that is recently 1970s and 1980s so between then and now we have been trying to do a lot to catch up and try to minimize what at the time nobody paid attention now it’s unacceptable.”
According to Alegria, restoring the river has to be a combined effort between the Department, the nearby industries, and the residents of Orange Walk.