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#382679 - 08/19/09 10:44 AM Dam changes color Macal River
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Dam activity changes the color of Macal River

The Macal River as it sits behind the Chalillo dam has its natural coloration. But the water that the dam is pumping out from lower level outlets is yellow oxide; the color of the clay sediments churned up from the river bottom. BECOL has blamed deforestation and xateros for the soil deposits in the river during heavy rains and floods. The Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELIPO) believes there is a health risk at hand. So they took some pictures upstream and sent them to its international network of scientists for review. News Five spoke to Dr. Guy Lanza, microbiologist and Director of the Environmental Science Program at the University of Massachusetts via phone today regarding his findings.

Dr. Guy Lanza, Professor of Microbiology, UMass

“A very large quantity of bottom sediments were released from the dam and completely caused the turbidity shock – suspended materials clays and other material in the river which causes an immediate water quality problem.”


Jose Sanchez
“And what does that mean for the people who live on the riverside? Can they ever use that water?”

Dr. Guy Lanza
“It will take some time for the materials to settle out and for the water to clear before they can use it. It’s very, very difficult, in some cases, impossible to treat the water with high turbidity levels for drinking purposes, either for humans or livestock and in addition to that there are problems with the natural organisms living in the rivers downstream from the dam; fish, fish food, organisms, the whole series of the food web that lives in the river will be damaged from the turbidity shock”


Jose Sanchez
“For people who may actually use it as drinking water, is it possible to filter and disinfect this water?”

Dr. Guy Lanza

“Its use, you can have extreme hardships in filtering the water with the turbidity I saw in those photos because the amount of material is so high, especially the clay materials, because it will clog the filters that are used to pre-treat the waters before you disinfect.”


Jose Sanchez

“In your thirty-five years of experience, have you ever seen anything of this sort that caused illness to humans?”

Dr. Guy Lanza

“There is one example that’s on record. In 1993 there was a turbidity increase in the drinking water supply outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. Four hundred thousand people were affected with waterborne diseases because the turbidity blocked the treatment of the water. And of those four hundred thousand, more than one hundred people died. That was because of the disease causing organisms were protected by the high turbidity in the water. And, therefore, it couldn’t be effectively treated.”


Jose Sanchez

“Is there a solution that we can look at right now?”

Dr. Guy Lanza

“That would be very, very site specific and at this point the first thing that would have to be done would be the immediate halting of releasing those sediments. But it’s going to take time, especially the clays. The clays have very fine particles and they form colloidal suspensions and they don’t settle out quickly. Instead they will continue to be there to interfere with disinfectant processes and light penetration that’s essential for a healthy river.”


Dr. Lanza says because his analysis is based on photos, it is difficult to predict the amount of time it would take the Macal River to recover. However, he does not recommend farm animals to drink from the river.


http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25040
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#382680 - 08/21/09 12:35 PM Re: Dam changes color Macal River [Re: Short]
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PRESS RELEASE: DATE: August 17, 2009

Macal Water “Unfit for Human Consumption” says Environmental Scientist


The water being released from the Chalillo Dam is unfit for human consumption and cannot be properly disinfected due to the high levels of turbidity, according to Professor Guy Lanza of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, U.S.A.

After almost three weeks of believing the rains and the runoff from the Mountain Pine Ridge were causing the Macal River to look worse than anyone can recall, we now know that the source is the intentional release of accumulated sediment and silt from the bottom of the reservoir. (see photo)

The Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO) sent the photos of the discolored water to its international network of scientists for review.

After reviewing the photographs, Dr. Lanza, who is a water quality expert with 35 years of experience in analyzing dam impacts and water pollution problems, stated “The recent release of sediments with severe turbidity contaminants from the Chalillo dam is inexcusable and poses immediate risks to human health, livestock health, and the ecology of the Macal, Mopan, and Belize rivers. Immediate action is required to halt the release of additional sediments from the Chalillo dam, and to quickly respond with appropriate remediation strategies to reduce the threats to humans, livestock, and the Macal, Mopan and Belize river ecosystems.

“The water in that river is unfit for human consumption and simply cannot be filtered and disinfected due to the high turbidity levels.” added Dr. Lanza.

“The extremely high water turbidity, clearly documented in the photographs, is the result of both organic and inorganic sediment material including silts and clays deliberately released from the dam gates to the Macal River. The clay material will remain in the water for an extended period.

“The release is a concern with regard to use of the water for drinking by humans and livestock and also a major concern to the overall water quality and ecology in both the impoundment and downstream in the Macal, Mopan, and Belize rivers.. The turbidity levels considered safe for drinking water are given in Nephelometric Turbidity Units (NTU’s). NTU's are a standard measure of light transmission through water and the U.S. Environmental Protection Act acceptable level is 1 NTU; the World Health Organization (WHO) level is 5 NTU's. The levels of turbidity in Macal River are thousands of times higher than acceptable WHO standards.

“Turbidity contaminants protect disease-causing waterborne microbes (bacteria, viruses, protozoa) by masking their presence and by interfering with the effectiveness of the disinfection chemicals (e.g. chlorine) used to purify the water for drinking purposes. Sediment materials producing the turbidity will clog filtration systems used to pre-treat drinking water before using chlorine (or other disinfectants) to inactivate pathogens. Clogging can occur in engineered sand filters at water treatment plants or in the “natural filtration processes” in soil and subsurface rock.

“It’s not possible to filter and disinfect drinking water with the excessively high levels of turbidity evident in the Macal, Mopan, and Belize rivers. A good historical example of excess turbidity causing serious human waterborne disease from drinking water was reported in 1993 in Wisconsin (near Milwaukee). More than 400,000 people became ill with waterborne disease from a protozoan parasite (= cryptosporidium) and more than 100 died.

“Toxic elements including heavy metals, pesticides, and generally non-toxic elements such as iron can have their toxicity increased in turbid water because they are often absorbed or adsorbed to fine clay Excess accumulation of iron can lead to disturbances in liver function, diabetes mellitus, endocrine disturbances and cardiovascular effects.

“High turbidity will block light entering the impoundment and rivers and that will in turn reduce the normal addition of oxygen to the water by photosynthetic plants, algae, and bacteria. Also, some of the dissolved and suspended organic material contributing to the turbidity will at the same time remove oxygen from the water through the processes of Biochemical Oxygen Demand and Chemical Oxygen Demand (BOD/COD).

“Lower oxygen content will result in the loss of fish and other important aquatic biota and can prolong the survival of disease causing microorganisms. Another concern is the abrasive effect of suspended materials on fish and other living creatures (a sort of wet sandblasting). The fact is sediments will clog the bottom habitat essential for the reproduction and survival of many important bottom dwelling organisms.”

CONTACTS: Dr. Guy R. Lanza
Professor of Microbiology and Director
Environmental Science Program
The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.
glanza at mrc.umass.edu
1-413-545-3747

Candy Gonzalez, J.D.
President, Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO)
candybz at gmail.com and/or belpo.belize at gmail.com
501-824-2476

Submitted by BELPO and WeBAD
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#382681 - 08/21/09 12:45 PM Re: Dam changes color Macal River [Re: Short]
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BWS says its water is safe despite river conditions
August 20, 2009


Belize Water Services says it has been monitoring the water quality in the Macal and Belize Rivers and can assure customers that its water is treated to become fully potable and safe for human consumption. It says over the last few months, BWS lab technicians as well as personnel from the Ministry of Health, DOE and the Public Utilities Commission have been proactively conducting tests in these areas to ascertain the water content and any changes that have been occurring within these river sources. BWS says it has seen and treated water with much higher turbidity levels than those being experienced for the last few weeks. It says the filtration processes employed by the company are able to remove all suspended materials and the water is treated thereafter to remove any bacterial contaminants with chlorine. BWS says its water is monitored regularly to ensure both through disinfection and clearness. It says its treated water meets and exceeds World Health Organization standards for potable water. Surveys conducted within the service areas have reported no problems at all with the quality of the water distributed to customers. The release goes on to say over recent months, tests have shown some increases in the level of iron and other chemicals or minerals which are not harmful to humans in the quantities observed. It says if these levels do not subside, this situation may mandate more sophisticated and therefore more expensive treatment facilities for the future. BWS says it is committed to informing customers and the public immediately should there ever be any problems or dangers with regard to its water supply.

http://www.lovefm.com/ndisplay.php?nid=10632
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#382682 - 08/22/09 10:33 AM Macal Water Isn't Making People Sick [Re: Short]
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Public Health: Macal Water Isn't Making People Sick

Tonight there continues to be great concern about the turbid state of the Macal and now the Belize Rivers. For close to a month, the water in the Macal has been reddish-brown because of accumulated sediment BECOL is releasing upstream at the Challilo Dam. And despite those concerns from San Ignacio residents and environmental activists – the news from the authorities tonight is that the water is safe. The Department of Environment, the Public Health Department and Belize Waste Control called a joint press conference this afternoon to announce that apart from its appearance – the water is fine. Senior public health inspector John Bodden they are however advising persons not to use the water if it is untreated.

John Bodden, Sr. Public Health Inspector

“We are advising people not to drink untreated water from the river. We are in that stage where especially for any sort of heavy metals, we don’t know what exists in there and we are awaiting that result and when we get that information then we could determine what is the advisory we would have to issue. We advise people that any water you use, to treat it before use for any purpose, for consumption or domestic wise and we advise people not to swim in the river.”

Haydon Brown, Public Relations Manager – BWS
“Our water is as indicated through our press release, we know that it is safe for human consumption and that is the treated water and that customers should continue to have no fair in terms of using the water.”

John Bodden,
“In the media it was actually stated that we are seeing an increase of illnesses, specifically gastroenteritis and skin rashes. We have conducted a health review and we have done this for the past four weeks which coincides with the event and what we have seen is that the number of cases that are current is a negligible increase beyond what we would normally see. In the endemic channel, if we would look at the endemic channel for the San Ignacio area, it does not indicate that there is an outbreak or any large increases. What we know is that we do not have an outbreak or the water that is being used for consumption is creating any kind of illnesses.”

The experts say that the turbid water, if it is contaminated, would pose a small health hazard to the fish. And despite their confidence that the water is safe – they won’t be entirely sure until two weeks time which is when they’ll get back the results from water samples sent to a lab in Louisiana to check for the levels of mercury, lead, cadmium, and arsenic.


http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14831
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#382683 - 08/22/09 10:35 AM Live With Sedimentation or Without Electricity [Re: Short]
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DOE: Live With Sedimentation or Without Electricity

And while they await those results - senior environmental officer Jeavon Hulse says that the sediments cause no real environmental threat and that we either choose to live with the turbid waters or without electricity.

Jeavon Hulse, Sr. Environmental Officer

“The results as we have them right now would show apart from that of the turbidity the water being normal. That is the results we have right now.

At this point in time, no matter what BECOL does, there will be a release of sediment. The only way to stop the sediment from being released, whether through the powerhouse or through the low level outlet is to close it down. That is the only way to stop it.

What we are seeing here as I mentioned is a natural process that is occurring; unforeseen, uncontrollable that has at present created a situation that we have not expected.

Because many times you find folks becoming very excited, easily excitable, and you would hear them say well, ‘bwoy mek we shut down the dam, slow it down. We want to stop that thing.’ Again is it really practical, particularly at a time where we are at when you look at the energy demands being placed on, well depending on how you look at it, the demon BEL, but you have a lot of demands being placed on the company.

The media houses would say the Department of Environment is sacrificing life, we don’t care about people, just for the sake of BEL and for light, everybody wants to watch cable at night. But in truth that is not really the case. Before like I said before we make any decision we need to look at the facts.”


Hulse says 40,000 acres of land in the Mountain Pine Ridge area was burnt in 2007 and that contributed to the high accumulation of sediments.

BECOL, which runs the chalillo dam wasn’t present at this afternoon’s conference but they did fire off a release in response to our story earlier this week with Candy Gonzalez. She accused the dam operator of intentionally pumping sediment filled water from the dam into the river. BECOL denies it saying that the company is not pumping silt into the river.

That however conflicts with what the Vice President of Operations Stephen Usher told Jules Vasquez last week when he explained that because the pumps for the turbine are located at the lower part of the dam’s retaining wall, the water being used and pumped out does have an abnormally high concentration of sediment because that’s what has accumulated at the bottom of the lake. As he explained it to us, it was not intentional, but it was an inadvertent effect of a unprecedentedly high volume of river sediment associated with upstream erosion.


http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14832
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#382684 - 09/10/09 11:04 PM NEMO Minister threatens to shut down Chalillo Dam [Re: Short]
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Minister of NEMO threatens to shut down Chalillo Dam

The color change that occurred in the Macal River over a month ago is stirring up not only silt but the ire of Melvin Hulse, Minister of Public Utilities and NEMO. Hulse made some critical statements over the airwaves this morning that he would shut down a valve at Chalillo which would abruptly cease the dam’s entire operation. The trouble began when environmentalists from Cayo sent the media pictures of the turbid and murky waters released from the dam into the Macal River. That forced the Ministries of Health and Environment to hold a joint press conference on August twenty first during which they advised Cayo residents not to swim in the river and advised them to treat it before use. Though testing of the water is incomplete, Hulse wants to cut BECOL’s water supply short. But BECOL’s Vice president of Operations Stephen Usher says shutting down Chalillo can adversely impact the country’s power supply and flood control at the dam.

Stephen Usher, Vice President of Operations, BECOL

“What he said was that the intention was to close off the valve that we use to meet our environmental regulations. And also to shut down the power plant which is supplying four megawatts to the grid. So shutting those two down is basically shutting down the Chalillo operation. Then the water would rise behind the dam and flow over the overflow spillway. So basically the water passing through the dam, there would be no water passing through the dam and it would be going over the top.”

Jose Sanchez

“And there is no way to determine how fast or the quantity of water or gallons of water that is going be pushed over, right?”

Stephen Usher

“Well that depends on the inflow. Whatever flow is coming in would basically go over the top.”

Jose Sanchez

“Would that be a very dangerous maneuver to do to lock off the valve?”

Stephen Usher

“Well it would be dangerous in the event that if we had the plant shut down we’ll keep a large storage. So, if any heavy rains come in, or any flood that come into the reservoir, it will go directly over the dam on its way to San Ignacio. So, basically what you are looking at is there would be no flood control at all.”

Jose Sanchez

“But BECOL is a power generating business, what would that mean for your revenues and power that would have normally gone to B.E.L.?”

Stephen Usher

“Well, definitely we would lose revenue because the shutting down Chalillo means that we would be losing four megawatts of power from Chalillo. Now, closing off Chalillo’s output at the valve would directly affect the Mollejon plant downstream. So therefore, Mollejon’s output production would be significantly reduced as well. If you’re looking at the discoloration in the water, currently the water flowing through the Chalillo dam is clear. The suspended sediments that was behind the dam has now passed through.”

Jose Sanchez
“Is the reason for this potential closure because of the silt? Are they saying there is something still wrong with it? Does it have bacteria? What is the reason?”

Stephen Usher

“Well, the information, what I gathered from he interview this morning, it was due to the sediments that is passing through the dam. So, if you stop passing water through the dam and take it from the top, then the objective is to get clear water. But we are saying now that it has cleared. There is clear water passing through the dam. There is no real need to shut down Chalillo.”

Jose Sanchez

“If they would shut it down what is BECOL prepared to do? Is it willing to take the matter to court?”

Stephen Usher

“Well, right now its premature to make that decision because it is only a statement made by the minister in a talk show this morning. We have not gotten any official statement or anything in writing. So we are operating as normal.”

Jose Sanchez

“Has the minister contacted you since he made those statements?”

Stephen Usher

“No.”

News Five has been unable to reach Minister Hulse for comment. We will have more on this story as it develops.

http://www.channel5belize.com/archive_detail_story.php?story_id=25269
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