The Macal River Running Like Chocolate Milk
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.
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.http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=14760