An entire year of grappling with COVID-19 might have swept the New River in Orange Walk out of your minds. But, in mid-2019, there was an environmental crisis with that northern waterway that choked nearby communities with the persistent and rank stench of dead fish.
Pollution of the river caused a major fish kill, and it prompted the Department of Environment to step in with investigations of the source of the pollution, as well as frequent water quality checks.
Tonight, the Department of Environment is reporting that the pandemic did not halt their efforts in the long road to restoration of the river. Representatives of the DOE have continuously conducted water quality monitoring, and monitoring industries and urban centers to ensure they are complying with the Environmental Laws of Belize. They have also been working in close collaboration with local authorities and the agricultural sector to implement actions to reduce runoff into the river. The DOE reports that 40 out of the 79 light industries in Orange Walk Town have improved their wastewater and greywater discharge from their facilities. The DOE has also ensured that ASR/BSI does their part by improving their wastewater treatment system, and the construction of cooling towers.
A new Integrated New River Watershed Management Plan is expected to be finalized in October of this year. That plan will include other corrective actions to protect the river. The DOE has also secured funding for 2 years of continuous water quality monitoring. A team will be out at the New River every month at 20 sample points from the in-land Lagoon to the Corozal Bay to collect water samples. The DOE is also in the process of partnering with international researchers to intensify monitoring and research efforts in the New River.
The DOE has also reconvened the New River Task Force to contribute to these efforts and join in the collaborative approach to addressing this longstanding issue.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many aspects of our lives to a halt, but it certainly has not stifled the Department of the Environment’s (DOE) efforts in the long road to the restoration of the New River. Since the New River crisis came to light in mid-2019, the DOE has been continuously conducting water quality monitoring, monitoring industries and urban centers to ensure they are complying with the Environmental Laws of Belize and working in close collaboration with local authorities and the agricultural sector to implement actions to reduce runoff into the river. As it relates to compliance, 40 out of the 79 light industries in Orange Walk Town have improved their wastewater and greywater discharge from their facilities. The DOE has also ensured that ASR/BSI do their part by improving their wastewater treatment system and constructing cooling towers.
Important to note is that the development of an Integrated New River Watershed Management Plan will be finalized in October of this year. The plan will present other corrective actions that should be taken to protect the river. Also, the Department of the Environment has secured funding for 2 years of continuous water quality monitoring. The team will be out at the New River every month at the 20 sample points from the in-land Lagoon to the Corozal Bay collecting water samples. The DOE is also in the process of partnering with international researchers to intensify monitoring and research efforts in the New River.
Click here to read the rest of the article in the San Pedro Sun
New River Stench
And while sargassum threatens the beaches, the New River is threatening the everyday lives of the residents of Orange Walk. The river's stench has severely affected these residents in the past, even causing schools in the area to close temporarily. And while the Department of the Environment is working on the problem, it seems the stench is back again. La Inmaculada RC school posted on their Facebook page that they are now growing concerned and are appealing to the authorities to urgently deal with the problem. Back in 2019, the students at the school faced health issues because of the New River's stench. We will continue to follow this story.
Orange Walk School Affected by Condition of New River, Again
The Department of Environment continues with its restoration efforts for the New River that runs through Orange Walk. The crisis on the stagnation of the river, and the associated public health and environmental hazards, first came to light back in 2019 and while there was some relief, the issue has resurfaced, along with the stench along the river bank. Now, it is threatening the reopening of in-person learning at La Inmaculada R.C. School. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
For over a month, there have been complaints of the resurgence of that pungent odour permeating the air in Orange Walk Town. It’s an all too familiar smell that residents and businesses in proximity to the New River banks experienced two years ago, back in 2019.
Lenny Umana, Principal, La Inmaculada RC School
“We have been encountering this scenario for the past two years, but two years ago was the worst scenario in which we actually had to find a way to do a different type of schooling which we call a plan B. we felt that was it. The Ministry of Environment did step into the picture and of course, the river gradually got back to its normalcy. But this year in particular – because last year we didn’t really have the effects because we were not here; we were out due to the COVID. And now that we are planning to return, we are finding that it is causing a problem for the reopening of our school on May tenth.”
The La Inmaculada RC School is one out of some two hundred schools that has applied to the Ministry of Education, and for which approval has been given, for the safe reopening for in-person learning. Having invested in the installation of hand washing stations at both campuses, Principal Lenny Umana says that are concerned about the health hazards and not being able to successfully reopen to its one thousand plus students.
“We have teachers here almost every day. So when they come in they first have to air out their classrooms because the stench seems to accumulate at night. We have written letters to the authorities that be and so far we are still waiting for some response. Our management has been informed about the situation and our GM is doing her best to look into it, but the process is a bit slow. My biggest concern is that we are opening on May tenth, will my teachers be able to sustain this stench all day because we will be going into a shift system where we will be having them here all day? And then our children will be faced with this scenario as well. And I think our parents have lived this experience and will not like their children to be sitting in a classroom with their masks on all day and also dealing with ht stench of the river.”
Last Friday, the Department of the Environment and Ministry of the Blue Economy issued a joint release about the 2021 restoration efforts for the New River. They say that forty of the seventy-nine industries in Orange Walk Town have improved their wastewater and grey water discharge from their facilities, including ASR/B.S.I., which installed cooling towers. The release speaks to the development of an Integrated New River Watershed Management Plan that will be finalised in October of this year. So what does all this mean to the school?
“The interventions that were put into place did gradually assist, but it was a very slow process. And the best the school could have done at that time was to ensure that the children got at least the basic subject areas and they spent less time at school, which is a scenario we may encounter on May tenth. Fortunately, and I don’t want to say fortunately because of pandemic, we found different forms of reaching out to children and our school went fully online. And so that’s something that would just fall right into place.”
The Department of Environment has reconvened the New River Task Force to join in a collaborative approach to addressing this longstanding issue. Duane Moody for News Five.
This afternoon, B.S.I. issued a released saying they have compliant with all environmental regulations and will be addressing the public on the issue next week.
The Department of the Environment (DOE) continues to monitor the state of the ecosystem health of the New River. The area between Toll Bridge going downstream to mid-Orange Walk Town and San Estevan continue to experience deteriorated ecosystem condition: eutrophic state. Various ecosystem health indicators have been observed not to be within acceptable range, for example, extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen have been observed within the entire water column of the river. This has resulted in a ‘dead’ zone with little or no support to aquatic life. Last week’s monitoring showed continuous algal cover over the entire impacted area, while this week the algal cover is segmented indicating a slight improvement at certain points along the deteriorated area.
Considering that the eutrophic state of the New River may result in the release of Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S), the DOE is monitoring the release of this gas. High concentrations of H2S (>100 ppm) will start to impact human health; at concentrations greater than 500 ppm, it has serious human health impacts. The week of April 19th, 2021, no H2S concentration was recorded during DOE’s monitoring activity. On April 29th, 2021, the highest H2S concentration recorded was near BSI/ASR compound at 4ppm, which is within the acceptable concentration limit. There was no H2S concentration recorded within Orange Walk Town and Trial Farm area, but the DOE will continue to monitor this gas and implement necessary actions.
The DOE appeals to the public to seek information from official sources that is guided by scientific data. Results from monitoring activities will continue to be shared. For further information, please contact the Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria at 822-2548.
Re: DOE Still Working on New River
#549919 05/02/2104:37 AM05/02/2104:37 AM
This Saturday, May 1st, Minister Andre Perez and CEO Kennedy Carrillo have joined Minister Orlando Habet and CEO Kenrick Williams of the Ministry of Sustainable Development and their Department of the Environment at Maracas Restaurant in Orange Walk to engage in discussions with the New River Restoration Task Force.
CEO Kennedy Carrillo took the opportunity to highlight the Ministry of Blue Economy’s concern on the economic impact the deteriorated condition of the river is having on the Orange Walk and by extension the Corozal community. With the increase of fish kill, the strong stench and other health hazards, the opportunities for income and revenue generation for tour operators, restaurants, fishers and others than depend on the aquatic resource are gravely affected.
The Ministry of Blue Economy in collaboration with the Department of the Environment is committed to ensuring that there is environmental compliance on the part of industries that are contributing to this situation at the New River. Measures must be taken to ensure that everyone assumes responsibility for the present problem that continuously resurfaces to create distress among the Orange Walk community.
The Ministry of Blue Economy will continue to engage with government, NGOs and the community. Present at the meeting was Senator for the NGOs, Osmany Salas as well as other environmental experts, advocates and community members.
Re: DOE Still Working on New River
#550003 05/06/2104:41 AM05/06/2104:41 AM
New River, same old problems - the April heat is on, and Orange Walk residents have been complaining that the stench emitted from the river is as bad as it's always been around this time. For years, the Orange Walk residents have had to deal with this annual issue with no solution in sight. And every year, the Department of Environment says they are monitoring the situation, which is exactly what they told our colleagues at CTV3. The Deputy Chief Environmental Officer, Edgar Eck, stated that they have been testing the river and admit that it is in a deteriorated stated. But while the stench is bad, he reassured the public that the Hydrogen Sulfide levels are not concerning.
Edgar Eck, Deputy Chief Environmental Officer, DOE "We continue to conduct monitoring of the river. Last week we were out on the river and measuring the different parameters and we still see very low levels of oxygen in the river which is not supportive of aquatic life at this point in time. There is also parameters that we monitor as well which are not good as well. So the river basically is in that state, experiencing deterioration. We also managed to bring in our sensors to measure Hydrogen Sulfide because there were some complaints about the stench the odor that was coming out. So we managed to get some readings on that. Basically the readings that we managed to get are in acceptable ranges."
Reporter: "You mentioned in the report as well that the 4ppm was recorded near BSI, are you able to say why that is the case?"
Edgar Eck, Deputy Chief Environmental Officer, DOE "Probably because there is the composition of different nutrients and things that's within the river. And so it varies on where that is happening."
Reporter: "Is there any concern that this number will continue to rise?"
Edgar Eck, Deputy Chief Environmental Officer, DOE "We're not expecting it to rise, nevertheless we will continue to monitor as every week we're out in the field monitoring so that is one of the things we were going to monitor and inform people about."
Reporter: "Is that the highest over the years that this has been happening?"
Edgar Eck, Deputy Chief Environmental Officer, DOE "2019 We recorded higher numbers. I think the highest we recorded was around 15 or something to that effect."
BSI Says: New River too Warm
And while the Hydrogen Sulfide levels in the area near ASR/BSI are higher than the rest of the river, the company is still adamant that they are doing their best to be environmentally friendly. The regional Environmental Health and Safety manager explained this morning on CTV3's Despierta Belize that their main issue has to do with the temperature of the water. And they have been working on a project to remedy this.
Seidy Lienez, Regional EHS Manager "Our biggest challenge is the temperature and we have recently, our board approved ten million dollars investment in cooling towers so we are not gonna install on cooling tower nor two, we are gonna install three cooling towers to ensure that we comply with the 35 degrees temperature limit that we have as part of our ECP compliance parameter. So William went a little bit into the explaining how a cooling tower functions but essentially what is does is that we have water at a high temperature coming into the system, we have n ingress of air which allows for heat dissipation through nuzzling effect, like a spraying effect, and increasing in surface area. So you have an exchange of temperature within the system. Once it has undergone the full series then the cool water would come out of the system and basically there are several options or several engineering options that you can see for temperature dissipation. We were considering two, one was spray ponds, really it's the same thing but it's open in a pond setting with a nuzzle spraying in the area. After careful consideration and with consultation with the DOE, the cooling towers was the preferred engineering design to go. We have been working with engineers from Brazil. As you know Brazil is much recognized with not only their cane industry but also their waste water treatment systems. And so we are working with Walsh Engineering, it's an international company widely known, globally recognized, when it comes to the execution of these types of projects so during COVID last year, we were working with them virtually, they have visited the site, we continue to have meetings with them to fine tune the details of the engineering project so it's been a lot of work over a year. 2:"