The Department of the Environment (DOE) has published its findings as it relates to the contamination of the New River. As previously mentioned some days ago representatives of the department took some samples of the water that runs along the Orange Walk District to find out what was causing the unbearable stench, the discoloration and fish kill as is the case every year between the month of April and June.
According to the DOE, it has established a Water Quality Monitoring Programme on the New River and indicates that data was collected on July 19th 2019 at five sites, four between the Toll Bridge and San Estevan Bridge and one near San Estevan Village. Those results have revealed several areas of concerns that adversely impact the aquatic ecosystem.
The DOE says that the current situation is most likely eutrophication due to several factors which is when a body of water becomes overly enriched with nutrient, frequently due to run off from the land and results in excessive growth of plants and death of animals due to oxygen depletion. Additional data shows that nutrient levels are high at five of the sites with sulphate showing a visible increase. Also noted are low levels of dissolved oxygen, while an algae count that is currently being analyzed by the DOE, indicates a high count.
The release adds that the New River is characterized as a tidal river due to the flatness of the districts here in the north, meaning that the river flow is affected, such as direction and speed, by the tides. The flow is considered extremely slow, giving solids ample time to sink to the bottom, trapping pollutants. The DOE adds that any major shock to the river from runoff during the start of the rainy season or any medium or large boats traversing the river will stir up contaminants rapidly altering water quality and affecting aquatic organisms. This attributes to the annual fish kills that occur along critical areas of the river. Another major factor of the river is the lack of any flushing effect that would remove such contaminants.
In an effort to discuss measure needed to protect the river, the DOE will meet with key industrial and commercial facilities in the area, with BSI/ASR being one of the main facilities. The DOE states that over recent years, it has been working closely with BSI, and reports that the company has established various advances to their facility including their wastewater treatment system. The meeting with BSI/ASR is to discuss additional corrective actions that must be established to further protect the river and to manage the eutrophication that is occurring at the point where the company’s effluent is discharged.
The DOE adds that L & R Liquors, on the other hand, has not discharged any effluent into the New River since mid-2017 following a plan approved by the DOE which discontinued the discharge of wastewater into the river. The plan entailed the elimination of the effluent by truck and treating it at an off-site location away from any surface and groundwater system and which is suitably sized to allow maximum retention and photo-oxidation.
The DOE says it will also partner with the Orange Walk Town Council and Public Health Department to identify all other commercial activities in the area and conduct investigations of their wastewater discharge, where corrective actions will be established for each commercial activity, where necessary.
The DOE has discussed with key partners, the expansion of its current monitoring programme of the New River to a more broad watershed management programme, which will include an assessment of all the discharge and abstraction points along the river, an assessment of all the commercial activities and identification of areas of concern from agricultural runoff, to name a few. It will also include a long-term water quality monitoring programme, including pesticides residue, heavy metals correlated with climatic data such as monthly rainfall, tidal variations and so forth. The result of the monitoring programme is expected to assist with the identification of other critical issues that must be addressed.