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How safe is your tap water? Print E-mail
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Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 21 December 2017 00:00

As the year 2017 comes to a screeching halt, it would be reasonable to consider that many Belizeans and our International partners have been working very hard over the last 11 months to ensure that our supply of water remained potable, but at the same time giving enough warnings that there is  need to protect this vital resource. In some parts of the World, fresh water supplies have been dwindling and as a result the market value has gone up. But for Belize our potable water supply remains considerable; however the experts are telling us that there is a need to protect it.

Biologist Boris Arevalo working within the Research Unit under the guidance of Friends for Conservation and Development FCD and following a five month research, has discovered that the Chiquibul’s Forest streams presently have good water quality. This was reflected by the high SIGNAL 2 Site Scores and macroinvertebrate family richness, but a caution has been made that the legal and illegal gold extraction in the Southern Chiquibul River is reducing water quality, reflected by the significant high mean abundance of macroinvertebrates Very Tolerant to Organic Pollution.  According to Rafael Manzanero the Executive Director of FCD we can expect up to 300 gold panners in the Chiquibul Forests this month, which will further degrade the Macal River’s headwaters.

The Hon. Omar Figueroa, Minister of State in Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development has expressed to the Guardian his concern,

“We have to actually protect these water shed systems, yes,  the gold panning is a major threat,  but we are addressing these things, we are strategically investing in these conservation posts and deploying our rangers to better protect these areas.”

For Alvan Haynes, the CEO for the Belize Water Services Limited his concern is primarily ours as well.

“… as the major water utility we are concerned about any situation that could cause danger to our sources,” he says

If something happen to the Belize River we would have probably 150,000 to 200,000 people that can’t get water,” he also adds.

Haynes assures that if he becomes aware of any situation, he immediately calls the Department of the Environment, Health and the Public Utilities Commission.

“We go and monitor it, many times at the cost of the Belize Water Services to transport personnel to those areas.”

However; Alvan Haynes explains that his laboratories are not yet equipped to test for heavy metals, so occasionally samples have to be sent abroad.

Haynes assures though that “We are proud to provide water that exceeds the standards that are set by the World Health Organization so our own standards-- if they say five parts per million-- we usually look at doing one part per million to ensure extra safety factor.”

Dr. Ed Boles, an Aquatic Ecologist is not yet worried about the gold panners using mercury to extract the gold in the Chiquibul, because of the great expenses involved.  He is more worried about metals such as mercury becoming methylated in the anaerobic bottom of the reservoirs in the upper Macal from where that mercury, “…gets tied up in the organic food web and then from there on it gets in all the fish.” Just last month the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Department of the Environment and the Belize Electric Company Limited BECOL completed another assessment of mercury levels in fish from the Macal, Mopan, Belize and New River. In their conclusion, the mercury testing indicated that both Botasis and Shortfin Molly had levels of mercury above the recommended safety level. The public was advised not to eat more than six ounces for both Botasis and Bay Snook weekly.

Dr. Boles is more worried about the wealthy land speculators panning for gold along the Mopan River on the Guatemala side, where according to him the use of metallic mercury is more likely to be used. He recommends the boosting of Belize’s water testing capabilities for this and other reasons.

“We are going to have to eventually step up and have our own water quality lab[oratory] and be able to run it in the country, maybe affiliated with the University or somewhere so that actually we can have our own technicians,  we need our gas chromatogram in, our own chemistry set up so we do it ourselves and it has to be a certified lab[oratory], once we do that then we turn a big corner not just for quality assessment but for research in general.”

To enhance the values of our water resources, Youth representatives from both Belize and Guatemala participated last week in a ‘Leaders in Water and Education’ Workshop and in the end drafted an official Bilateral declaration. It was there that an expert on water resource management explained the water cycle; with important inputs coming from the Organization of American States OAS Peace Fund and the Department of Sustainable Development and Environment of the OAS.

Belize’s major partner, the British High Commission Office had long foreseen the problems that could emanate from the Mopan River, which joins the Mopan River at Branch Mouth and feeds into the Belize River. The 2017-2018 bi-national watershed education program began in earnest this year in Guatemala with the support of the British High Commission Office in Belize and FYFFES. In September alone 510 students and 19 teachers have been sensitized on watersheds. FCD had also been integrated in this effort to protect the bi-national watersheds.

“You see a Belize that is forested for the most part in the entire Chiquibul landscape and if you look across the border, I think Mr. Derick Chan pointed out, that there are about 200,000 Guatemalans living in border communities, so we are dealing with a lot of pressure”, says Dr. Omar Figueroa. Such a demographic pressure of course impacts the Mopan River on the Guatemala side.

Other progress was seen when the Government of Belize also established the fledgling Institute for Water Resource Management, which will hopefully now collate the data coming from these watershed activities.

As the year begins anew, Dr.  Ed Boles has another valuable advice:

“The availability of water is closely tied to the health of the forest particularly the riparian forest, you strip away the riparian forest then you lose water quality because the riparian forest is a filter systems that’s taking out the pesticides and other things coming down slope, it protects the river bank, it reduces sediment, it dissipates flooding, which is a corridor system for wildlife and it also feeds the river. Most of the real base of the food web of the river system comes from the leaves from riparian forest, so riparian deforestation is probably the biggest issue we face in Belize as far as our water quality goes.”