Chalillo DamThe once pristine Macal River in western Belize winds through dense jungle — home to jaguars, tapirs, macaws and other endangered species.  Recently, locals noticed that the river below the Chalillo Dam was thick and brown. Aerial photos have confirmed that the muddy river is dumping tons of sediment into the Caribbean Sea.

ELAW is working with Candy Gonzalez in Belize to figure out what’s going on. Candy’s organization, the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO), issued a press release with some of their findings, including a warning that the river is no longer fit for human consumption.

“It’s ominous,” says Mark Chernaik, ELAW Staff Scientist. “The enormous amount of sediment coming from the base of the dam endangers the health and safety of the community.”

Mark prepared an affidavit which will be  filed next week in the Belize Supreme Court describing how the Belize Electric Company’s failure to comply with its Environmental Compliance Plan is depriving the community of its right to know how much mercury are in fish downstream of the dam and why sediment levels are so horrendously high.

ELAW has worked with BELPO for many years to challenge destructive dam projects.

Before the Chalillo dam was commissioned, BELPO, as part of the Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs, went all the way to the Privy Council in London (Belize’s highest court of appeal) with a claim that the dam approval process was flawed.  They lost the case 3-2, but it was still a milestone:  This was the Privy Council’s first environmental case since it was established 500 years ago.

Read more about the mess that follows big dam construction in this report from Belize News 5.

Maggie Keenan
ELAW Communications Director