Pollution in North Sound an issue, says WA and DoE

| 15/04/2010

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Island science &  nature news(CNS): In a joint email from the Water Authority and the Department of Environment, the two entities say that an email which has been widely circulated with photos supposedly of raw sewage floating in North Sound was, infact, nothing more than floating mats of algae. However, the release does admit that wastewater pollution is a concern in some areas of North Sound, though it noted that both the WA and the DoE are working towards a solution. (Left: one of the photos circulated by Kerry Horek in an email on 12 April)

The release says that the email which includes photos of material floating in the North Sound has alleged that the floating material is sewage that has leaked from the Water Authority’s sewage plant on Seymour Drive, east of the George Town landfill. The email, circulated by Kerry Horek (who also distributed in April last year photos of Mount Trashmore taken from a cruise ship) requested local government representatives to investigate the problem before it created a health hazard. In a joint response the Water Authority and the Department of the Environment, which share responsibility for protection of marine water quality, have advised that what is being observed is not raw sewage but floating mats of algae (marine plants) which collect in embayments on the western side of North Sound.

“The suggestion in the email that the floating matter in the Sound is sewage seeping from the Water Authority’s treatment plant is incorrect. As the system disposes highly treated effluent deep below the ground, there is no direct link between the floating matter and the treatment plant” said Dr Gelia Frederick- van Genderen, Director of the Water Authority Cayman. The treatment plant produces a high quality effluent that is disposed in deep wells, the casings of these wells are grouted from ground level to 150 feet below the ground and effluent is discharged in the open zone of the wells, which is from 150 to 225 ft below ground level.

However, both the Water Authority and the Department of Environment confirm that, while the claim of raw sewage floating in the North Sound is false, data from their on-going water quality monitoring programme in North Sound does indicate that there are areas of concern. The joint comprehensive water quality monitoring programme which was initiated in 2003 samples thirteen locations in the North Sound eight times per year to establish long-term data to track trends and indicators of pollution. (The photo below shows the locations of the sampling points.)

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Island science and nature newsOverall, the results of this monitoring programme indicate that water quality in areas of North Sound not directly adjacent to land is still excellent, says the release. However, water quality in areas closer to land, especially in the western part of the Sound, show elevated levels of bacteria, nutrients (phosphates and nitrates) and chlorophyll-a. Areas where canals drain into the Sound are the most affected. It should be noted however, that even in the worst affected areas, the levels of bacteria, which are indicative of wastewater pollution, seldom exceed the international standards for bathing water.

Director of the Department of Environment, Gina Ebanks-Petrie, explained that generally in tropical marine waters where there are elevated levels of nutrients, leafy and fleshy algae normally present at low levels in the marine environment proliferate. In addition, concentrations of phytoplankton (microscopic plants) present in the water column also greatly increase, turning the water green and cloudy. When these conditions occur in North Sound they produce an imbalance in the natural systems and result in impacts that can include low oxygen levels at night and reduced sunlight for critical species such as turtle grass.

Both the Water Authority and the DoE agree that the water quality problems currently being observed in North Sound relate to the ways in which the Island has grown and developed over the last 50 years, and that it is not possible at this stage to attribute the input of pollutants to North Sound to a single source. There are several possible contributing factors which include leachate from the unlined George Town landfill, our current methods for on-site wastewater treatment and disposal, poorly planned canal developments, fertiliser-enriched run-off from golf courses and other landscaping, and inputs from recreational use of the marine environment. In addition, the large-scale removal of mangrove wetlands and seagrass systems on the western side of North Sound to accommodate development has reduced the natural capacity of the local environment to mitigate the effects of nutrient and pollutant inputs. Each of these issues has a direct or indirect impact on water quality in North Sound.

While acknowledging that it is not possible to turn back the clock, both the Water Authority and Department of Environment believe that solving this problem (and preventing similar problems in other locations) will require a concerted and collaborative effort by several government agencies and Authorities, as well as the public. Changes and improvements need to be made in the ways in which we plan future development and manage existing development, and in the systems we employ to manage the generation, collection and treatment of our collective waste.

The Water Authority and the Department of the Environment have reiterated their commitment to working towards solutions for these issues in conjunction with the policies of the Government. They believe that their joint North Sound monitoring programme has and will continue to provide valuable data to inform decisions. The Water Authority, both as a wastewater utility and through its role as a regulator of wastewater treatment and disposal continues to work on appropriate solutions. The Department of the Environment, as principal advisor to Government on environmental issues continues to advocate for sound policies that protect the fragile environment of the Cayman Islands.

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  1. Kerry Horek says:

    With regards to the article on CNS, and I want to thank you for doing a great job with it.  I value all that you do and your hard work.  In any event I want to share this with your bloggers as he has given me written permission to do so:

    The email from Thomas J. Goreau, PhD, President, Global Coral Reef Alliance, Coordinator, United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development Partnership in New Technologies for Small Island Developing States, and in this email he clearly states and I quote ‘ This is basically bacterial slime growing on rotting sewage.  A thin coating of cyanobacteria (blue green algae) in one photo.  When this rots some more, the nutrients in it will feed the massive algae blooms that turn North Sound pea green and smother the reefs to the north’

    My reason for posting this is that I am being accused of distributing ‘false’ photographs, and chasing shadows.  My point is this mess has been sitting on our shores and floating around in our water for an extended period of time, WHY?.

    So my question is ‘How long as the agencies known about this?Why haven’t they cleaned it up? When are they going to clean it up? 

    The ‘silence’ that the public experience from ‘no action’ is deafening to many.  We are a tourist destination, and in my view this is certainly not good.  So to the ‘small minded’ people out there who feel that I am stirring up trouble, well, that is not my intention. I am adressing this publicly because we need to clean up our environment and stop chasing ‘rainbows’ or ignoring the ‘true facts’ about what is taking place in this country when it comes to our environment.  If we don’t start now, then what future will your children have?  Do you want to see signs posted stating ‘beach closed due to pollution’? Or do you want your children to see photos in the future of how clear the water once was? Take your minds out of the gutter people, put your smart caps on and start protecting and cleaning up this country and it’s environment.

    What I want to see in the very near future or immediately the agencies that are responsible for our environment go to work and clean this mess up, and stop ignoring, overlooking or turning a blind eye.  If you don’t care about our environment then you should not live here and that’s the simple truth.

    In the same breath I want to thank everyone who participated in the Earth Day clean up, you did a great job, and I hope the DOE sends their trucks out several times today to clear the roadwaysof all that was collected.

    Kerry Horek
    ‘Keep my Island Clean & Green’

  2. Annoymous says:

    We are building new docks and when the tourist ships arrive they will be greeted by a huge garbage mountain. 

    Are we going about this all wrong?  We should concentrate on cleaning up the dump, and cleaning up the water contamination. 

    This young woman is quite the activist, she keeps the environment in the media and that is very important.  We should appoint her an Environment Ambassador, she would be fitting for the job.  She has a good attitude and don’t appear to be giving up, and she does not appear to be afraid of being challenged either, and that makes me feel good to know we have people like her in our community. 

    I hope her actions will give others the push to do the same.  Miss Horek you are a great asset to this community thus far.  Please do not stop doing what you are doing.  Thank you for having a no nonsense attitude about your environment.

  3. anonymous says:

    Perhaps its the algae, Ash and other sediments from that underwater volcano in the North sound.  Mess with that North Sound you developers and this is what you’ll get…..and more to come.  Wait and see.

  4. Anonymous says:

    An interesting article. I would like to know what effect the leaching from the Landfill and waste water is having on the drinking water.

    The quality of the water is supposed to most affected closer to shore. It seems as if the water companies acquire their water, for human consumption form deep wells close to the shore.

    Reverse osmosis remove the salt from the water. How clean and free of heavy metals is this water after the process?

    The same could be asked about locally bottled drinking water. The original source is deslaintaed water, which is treated and filtered to taste better. But does this process remove the heavy metals from the water?

    Contaminated water has been linked to various illness.

    I would say that should be the#1 reason to address the Landfill.

    Even if it means exporting or selling our garbage to other larger countries. Ship out the hazardous, non-biodegradeable trash on barges, once it’s been sorted and compacted.


    Sure, it may add to rates. But it would be better than the health alternatives!




    • Anonymous says:

      You make very good points. I also think it would be interesting to see the impact on our drinking water.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Kerry Horek – You go girl !!

    Stand up for what you believe in and be heard !! 

    Exercise that freedom of speech, we have been silenced for way too long !

    • Anonymous says:

       Go where,get the facts straight,before shooting off one’s mouth.yes we need watch dogs,but not one that barks after every shadow.sometimes we think we are doing good,when we are actually making matters worse.

  6. Office for Environmental Responsibility & Accountability says:

    This would be a good time to request all historical data from the Water Authority to show whether their deep well injected "high quality effluent" meets their own discharge standards. The same effluent standards are applied to anyone who operates an on-site wastewater treatment plant for a large residential complex or hotel not connected to the sewer system.

    The 150ft – 225ft deep Injection wells that Water Authority is using are much shallower than in other jurisdictions like Bahamas and Florida. Deep effluent injection wells in Florida are held to a much higher standard. The limestone rock formations in Florida are essentially the same as what we have here in Cayman and injection wells for this type of effluent are typically between 650 and 3500 feet below land surface. The wells are this deep to prevent effluent finding it’s way back up to the surface through underground channels in the rock.

    Proving that effluent is making it’s way to the surface in North Sound is not an easy task, however there are methods available to test this hypothesis. Chemical and or biological tracers are injected into deep wells with the effluent. Groundwater wells and surface water is sampled continuously in the same area to detect presence of these tracers.

    Drilling deeper injection wells might be the way to go, but then this only addresses the wastewater problem. The same tracer method could be used to detect any impact from landfill leachate leaking into ground and surface water. Containing and treating the leachate from the landfill is far more complex and expensive venture but equally as important in protecting the coastal ecosystem.

  7. Bobby Anonymous says:

    Get rid of the liveaboard/fishing boats that are dumping in the water every day and night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Try and crap in US waters and see what happens!!!!!

  8. Green Giant says:

    Kerry, you are doing a good thing since your Mt. Thrashmore photo last year.  Keep it up and I will vote for you in 2013 if you decide to be a candidate and I hope you will.  We need more Caymanians who has the guts to stand up for their country.

    Keep them coming don’t stop we need to put these problems out there and keep them out there all the time.


  9. Anonymous says:

    If the government is unable to take care of this matter at present can you imagine what will happen when the proposed 2,000 bed hospital and medical city becomes a reality, what will happen to our environment then? 

  10. Anonymous says:

    "Pollution in North Sound an issue" AND HAS BEEN FOR THE PAST 30 YEARS!!!

    Move the Dump !

  11. N. Syder says:

    Huge quantites of nutrients left over from sewage treatment are disposed of into deep wells every day in Cayman and the "treatment" does not reduce the levels of these nutrients sufficiently. Eventually the nutrient load reaches the sea and algae utilise it to grow. The presence of algal mats in the near shore waters of the North Sound is evidence enough that nutrients discharged from the Landfill and the WA wastewater plant are impacting the North Sound indirectly.

  12. Kerry Horek says:

    I am happy to see that this is now being addressed.

    However, if the WA and the DEH claims this is not sewage, then why has then been allowed to grow and manifest itself in our North Sound?

    How long have they known about this issue?

    Why must it take an advocate as myself or anyone else for that matter, to bring this to the attention of our reprentatives before anything is being done about?

    This was in the news last year with Mr. Billy Adams as I recall and again nothing was done to address it.

    Additionally, I would like to know what is causing this because it is centralized in an area off the garbage dump, in addition to the bypass near the WA Sewage treatment plant.  Something is stimulating this, and it is not found in any other area of the North Sound in this mass.

    I think that we can all pick sense out of nonsense here.

    Time to clean up this country, and there is no time to keep ignoring these issues.

    I still ask the question WHY has it not been cleaned up?

    Thank you.

    Kerry Horek

    Keep my island Clean & Green
    Advocate for a clean country

  13. Anonymous says:

    well done kerry horek again for highlighting the environmental issues which are constantly being ignored by the gov