Environmental Threats
and Challenges


Update:  the National Environmental Advisory Commitee (NEAC) halted dredging of the Big Creek Channel to deepen it for bigger ships because of concerns about the area's water supply.  NEAC believes that the aquifer for the Placencia area may lie under the shipping channel, and that the aquifer may be very shallow.  EIA consultants did not know anything about the geology of the shipping channel, which prompted NEAC to halt dredging (which was being carried on before EIA approval).

PCSD and the Placencia Village Council are also concerned that our water supply may be compromised by exploratory oil drilling on land in the Big Creek area.  (See Oil for more information.)

Placencia Water TowerThe water supply for the Placencia Peninsula is somewhat tenuous, with all fresh water piped under the Placencia Lagoon from one of three wells in Mango Creek.  The other two wells supply Independence/Mango Creek Village and Big Creek.  (This water source was discovered during oil exploration drilling.)

Hurricane Iris destroyed the water line to the Peninsula from Mango Creek in 2001, and replacing it took about 3 months and hundreds and thousands of dollars.

(Placencia had to pay to replace the pipeline after Iris - no government assistance was given by the national government, either to purchase the pipeline or to install it.  Concrete anchors were hand-cast in Placencia by volunteers and the line was installed by volunteer divers.  Not only did the government not assist in restoring water to the Peninsula, the customs department actually refused to release the pipe for several weeks after it was finally delivered to Belize from Florida because customs wanted more customs duties from the Placencia Water Board.)

Until 2006 when Ara Macao submitted its environmental impact assesment or approval, everyone in the area believed that the water source for Placencia, Seine Bight, Big Creek and Independence was an underwater river originating in the Maya Mountains.

However, local residents began asking questions about the local water supply when faced with the potentially massive increase in population on the Peninsula if Ara Macao were approved.  (Ara Macao's capacity is 13,000 people - the population of the entire Peninsula in 2006 was about 2,500.)

The Ara Macao public EIA review process and subsequent EIA submittals for False Caye, Harvest Caye and The Placencia Resort proved that no one really knows where our water comes from, or how much water is in that source.

The water source for the existing three wells is now believed to be an aquifer, but we don't know if it's a confined aquifer, a perched aquifer, its depth or size, and we don't know if the Ara Macao test well found the same aquifer, or a different one.  We also don't know anything about the characteristics of the aquifer tested by Ara Macao if the developer did find a different aquifer there.

Why is this important?  Development.  In just three years, 2006 - 2009, the number of hotel rooms approved for the Peninsula more than tripled, from 1,005 in 2006, 3,388 in 2009, meaning that potable water demand also tripled in those 3 years, just for the hotel market, and not including the resident population, which also increased significantly during the time period due to an influx in construction workers and residential tourists.  Can our three water wells provide this much more water?

We simply don't know -- and we need to know.  Water is a basic human right, and our government should not be able to jeopardize the water supply of Peninsula residents for the benefit of mostly foreign resort developers and their guests.  Which means, the government should answer this question before it can legitimately approve more resorts.

Unfortunately, the government, through DOE, claims that it does not even keep track of how many new hotel rooms it approves, much less the cumulative water demand it creates through development approvals.

Until local communities are successful in forcing government to fulfill its water obligations, tourists can help by minimizing their own water usage while on the Peninsula. 

Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development

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Placencia, Belize