Environmental, water and health authorities have announced corrective measures to stave off a potential hazard on the south coast’s tourist belt, caused by runoff of sewage and an overflowing sluice at Worthing, Christ Church.
Acting Director of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) Anthony Headley said on state television tonight the closing of Worthing Beach and the opening of the sluice gate were among the immediate measures taken to prevent what he described as a potential hazard that would have adversely affected humans in the area.
Businesses and residents on the south coast have been complaining for several weeks about raw sewage on the roads and on their compounds, with one businessman telling Barbados TODAY last week that the awful stench and sight of faeces was posing a threat to the businesses in the area.
“The apartments that I am associated with is fully booked until April next year. It is located right below by the way of the flow of the current, where all of this crap going on. So whenever my tourists come out on the beach, they’re looking out and seeing water that is murky water, which is sewage coming out. That is not what they are paying hundreds of US dollars a night to come and enjoy,” he said.
“A friend of mine has a fishing boat and said that he was about a mile off [a south coast] hotel and out there smells like sewage. So it means we are pumping the sewage into the open ocean, which isn’t meant to be happening. All we are doing now is dumping. We are creating a serious environmental problem,” he stressed, although the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) had insisted the raw sewage was not affecting the beaches.
Headley said a committee had been established and had examined the various issues, and had heard the reports and complaints from the public.
“Those are going to be prioritized and then we will establish solutions for each one. For instance, the issue of the infiltration [of sewer catchment areas by storm water runoff], what we want to do is to prevent any more waste water from escaping the sewage system,” he said.
The EPD acting director said the BWA had started to identify all areas where the sewer network was below the flood level, and BWA inspectors and the Ministry of Health would be going out to those properties to see where and how the water was getting into the sewer network.
Headley said once that was done, measures would be implemented to prevent additional flows from getting into the network.
“We must recognize that we are a tropical environment and even though the hazard in this case may be a microbiological hazard, the amount of sunshine that we get, those types of situations do not last long. We are just being a bit cautious in this particular situation to ensure that no one is impacted adversely from this unfortunate event,” the top environmentalist pointed out.
Headley said additional assessments were being carried out to determine the severity of the problem, and that a routine monitoring programme was being undertaken at Worthing Beach.
“We actually took samples this morning and it’s going to take about 48 hours before we get those results. We are going to be taking samples again on Wednesday and this is to confirm that the levels are within acceptable standards,” Headley said.
He explained that even though the beach had been closed, it did not mean the standards were breached.
“We are just saying that there was the potential for hazard to be potentially present and we wanted to ensure that no one used the water while we evaluate the situation to ensure the water is safe,” assured Headley.
Late this evening, the Ministry of Tourism and International Transport also weighed in on the matter, which threatens the bread and butter tourism sector, now in the early stages of the winter season.
The ministry said in a statement that as a result of last Tuesday’s heavy rainfall and extensive storm water runoff into Graeme Hall swamp, the low lying areas within the sewered catchment areas were impacted by infiltration. It said the system was not designed to handle both waste water and the infiltrated storm water, and that a decision was taken to open the sluice gate in order to lower the water level in the Graeme Hall swamp to reduce infiltration into the sewer system.
“Out of an abundance of caution a decision was taken by the Ministry of Health and the National Conservation Commission to temporarily close Worthing Beach which is adjacent to the sluice gate,” the statement added.
“Historical monitoring has shown that if there is a breach of recreational water quality standards after significant rainfall, bacteriological levels return to normal within six to eight hours after the event. One week has passed since last week’s flooding,” it emphasized.
The beach closure has provoked the ire of visitors, many of whom have taken to social media to make their feelings known.