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The Macal River Running Like Chocolate Milk

[Linked Image] In the rainy season, it's common to see the Macal river in western Belize with a reddish brown color, the product of soil runoff coming down from areas upstream.

But this year, the river appears slightly orange, almost the color of clay, or chocolate milk. Environmental watchdogs in the area say they know what the problem is and they say it's the Chailillo dam.

Indeed, aerial pictures circulated by some of those environmentalists show that the water accumulated at the head of the dam's lake is clear, but the water being pumped out through what's called the level outlets is a turbid, clay color.

BECOL's Operations Vice President Stephen Usher told us that it's accurate to say that the dam operations are producing the particular reddish brown color in the river.

[Linked Image] Usher explained that while the water on top of the lake is clear, at bottom it's all silt. The turbines pump their water form the bottom, so inevitably what they discharge will have that soil color.

And this is BECOL's point: this is the first time they've gotten so much silt and Usher says it's because of unregulated deforestation and Xatero activities upstream that have degraded the forest on the river banks. Because of that the soil loses its integrity and during flood spells like this it rolls down into the river.

Usher says it will be a while before it clears up because they are still getting heavy rains; he adds that they even got a flash flood recently but the communities downstream were not affected because it was absorbed by the dam.

So does this pose any health risks to communities along the river? Seeing this picture taken today at Branch Mouth where the Mopan and Macal rivers meet, that's a legitimate question.

According to Chief Environmental Officer Martin Allegria the iron levels in the river were elevated when they tested it two weeks ago. But he says it poses no health risk because iron is not classed as a heavy metals. BECOL's Usher says their tests show no elevated levels; in fact he says the iron readings are low.

They do agree though that deforestation and degradation of watershed areas accounts for the excessive silt buildup.

Area environmentalists disagree; they say that it cannot be blame don Guatemalans. They argue that Guatemalan settlements are in the Mopan watershed, not the Macal watershed. And as is visible at Branch mouth, it's Macal, not Mopan that's carrying all the silt.

All parties agree that it will be some time before it clears up.

Live and let live
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,395
Environmental issues were raised recently when a large amount of clay was released from behind the Chalillo Dam on the Macal River on the mainland. The amount of clay in the river downstream is killing plant and animal life. Concerns are being voiced about the affect it could have on people, farms and livestock downstream of the dam and the reef. The Macal River flows into the Belize River and towns from San Ignacio to Belize City and the reef are being affected. Mr. Jorge Aldana said that he is looking into this issue and has found that clay deposits on the upstream side of the dam are normally flushed down stream a small amount at a time but recently a large amount was released all at once which is removing oxygen from the water and killing the fish. It also has a high concentration of mercury and the government is recommending that fish taken from the river not be eaten.

Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce

Joined: Dec 2006
Posts: 13,675
DOE - Enforce the Laws!!

On Wednesday, December 2, the Supreme Court will hear arguments from the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO) on the failure of the Department of Environment (DOE) to fully enforce the Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) for the Macal River Upstream Storage Facility (MRSUF), commonly known as the Chalillo Dam.

If you are concerned about the job DOE has been doing on the Chalillo dam, or on Belize's environmental issues generally, join us at 9:00AM in the Supreme Court, Belize City.

According to the law, an Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP) ". . . is a legally binding document . . . consisting of a set of legally binding environmental conditions, guidelines, policies and restrictions, which the developer or his representative agrees to in writing to abide by as conditions for the project approval."

That means the Department of the Environment (DOE) is obligated, under the law, to monitor and enforce all ECPs including the Chalillo ECP.

In 2007, BELPO went to court asserting that the DOE was not enforcing the requirements of the ECP for the Chalillo Dam. The court agreed. When asked by the media, if we felt good about the decision, we said we would feel good once the orders were enforced.

But, over a year has passed and people still don't know what to do if there is a dam break; the water of the Macal River has gotten so bad that people will not even go in it, but BECOL is still not doing the required monthly waster quality testing - either that, or the DOE is refusing to tell us about the water quality test results. We're still not well informed about the mercury levels in the fish; and, there has been no meaningful sharing of information with the public or an opportunity for the people's concerns to be heard.

This is why we have gone back to Court. We want the Court to order the DOE to fulfill its obligations to enforce the Court orders by specific dates. If the Department of the Environment fails to comply within the time periods set (if the court rules in our favor), the Chief Environmental Officer should be charged with contempt of court for failing to do his job. This is the essence of the current Court case, Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO) v. DOE that will be heard on December 2, 2009.

Although this case deals specifically with the Chalillo ECP, it affects every citizen of Belize who is concerned about the DOE doing its job properly. Please attend the court proceedings and show your concern for our environment and respect for the rule of law.

For more information:

BELPO at 802-0220

White Sands Dive Shop
Joined: Nov 2000
Posts: 5,563
My daughter wants us to go. Anyone else planning to be there?

Take only pictures leave only bubbles
Joined: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,461
Yes, plenty of people will go to show their support. Same day at the BTIA AGM and a short walk from the Radisson to Court to show your numbers.

Belize based travel specialist
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Joined: Aug 2007
Posts: 421
Any updates on this story? It would be nice to know if the DOE in fact does choose to enforce the laws as Elbert and many others plead. Did many people show their support?

It's great to be .....

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