New water royalties and licenses to take effect

[Linked Image] A first of its kind water bill is about to be signed into law in Belize which would put all of Belize's water resources under the management of a new authority, the National Integrated Water Resources Authority. This authority would be the agency to issue licenses to any person or company wanting to dig wells to extract water, especially if it is for commercial and industrial purposes.

For example, the Belize Water Services Limited (BWSL), the Belize Electric Company Limited (BECOL), and Hydro-Maya would have to get licenses to use and extract water, as well as pay a royalty for every gallon of water they extract. This could have ripple effects for the cost of water and electricity services in the country.

According to the Clerk of the National Assembly, Eddie Webster, the National Integrated Water Resource Management Bill is still undergoing refinements, to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" before finalization and signing by the Governor-General Sir Colville Young. It won't likely become law before next week, he indicated.

The changes are being implemented under the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. Belizeans would still be able to collect water for personal use without charge.

The man who was responsible for the technical work in drafting the bill is hydrologist Rudolph Williams, who is now the Director of Water at the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in Belize City.

Williams explained to Amandala that the intent is to protect the water resources. Belize has the 3rd highest per capita ratio of water to population in the region. If Belize continues to abuse and misuse this resource, the country will end up having some of the dirtiest water, and it would be expensive to purify for human use.

The process, said Williams, began way back in 1992/1993, but was abandoned because there were officials in government who felt threatened that their budgets and staff could be cut to put resources into the new authority.

"Everybody was aware that the way water resources [are] managed, we will end up with a problem with water down the road," said Williams, citing also a lack of political will to get it done.

The law has "far-reaching implications," he noted.

"One of the most glaring things that bother water managers a lot is that there is no protection at all for the ground water," he added. He said that managers need to ensure that when a person drills a well, the person next-door, who may also want to drill a well, is not deprived or otherwise negatively affected by pollution.

A family farm which draws water for drinking and gardening won't have to pay fees, Williams explained, noting, however, that the tariffs and schedules have not yet been set up.

He also said that there will be the preparation of a national master water quality plan, which would set out further details.

Williams said, water is a natural resource and just as how people pay royalties to cut trees in the forest or extract oil from the ground, they will also have to pay for water. Currently, the water BWSL is using is for free.

The new authority won't charge for rain water though, he clarified. There will be no charge for vat water, if people want to make a tank and catch rainwater for personal use, but if you want to sell water, the PUC will charge the person as a supplier of water and they will need a license.

"As long as [natural] water will be used as an input [in business], there has to be some charge on it," he added.

"Anybody who is not using more than 5,000 gallons per week...won't pay," he told us.

The new authority would operate separately from the PUC, and set rates for water extracted from nature. The PUC would set rates for water sold to customers; for example, tariffs that the PUC sets for BWS to charge consumers.

Addressing the likelihood of increased costs to consumers, Williams argued: "Those costs will be less today than if we wait until the water is really, really 'screwed up' and put in a cost to purify or rectify any bad management decisions that are occurring."

The authority includes representatives of seven disciplines such as an economist, lawyer, environmentalist, engineer, and water specialist. There would also be positions for a chairman and chief executive officer of the authority.

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