Established in 1936 the Hollis Reservoir has been servicing the city of Arima and environs, in Trinidad and Tobago. Nestled in the norther range of the island, the Valencia watershed is one of largest and oldest forest resources to feed the Hollis Dam. Given the high levels of precipitation Trinidad & Tobago has experienced over the last year, one would not expect water supply to become a livelihood challenge.
Nonetheless, a combination of the changing climate and ill-suited development has resulted in a multitude of ripple effects negatively affecting the Valencia Community. Without resolution, justice cannot be achieved.
Given its historical importance , residents have recorded other alarming environmental impacts. In short, the water courses within the topography of the village are changing.
The river begins in its natural state at the northernmost area of the village nearest to the Mora Avenue residential area. From there, it runs in a southerly direction through the entirety of the commune and merges with the Aripo River and Savannah. Along the way the river feeds the Hollis Booster station and passes underneath the Eastern Main Road, the Valencia Road, and the Valencia Bypass.
At each bridge the river is supported with concrete culverts whilst within its natural state it is used for recreation, as a water source for agriculture and is integral to the ecosystem which supports flora and fauna.
As ascertained residents living nearest to the river’s course, their homes are now being threatened, indicating that the water levels have permanently changes and the overall pathway is no longer the same. For many, leaving one’s home is a traumatic experience and not a decision easily made. Conversely the opposing option of remaining at the current location, leaves these residents consistently under the threat of being, quite literally, uprooted.
One business owner of clothing story contributed her opinion, saying: “When rain falls, it washes all the sand, gravel, and whatever other materials into the river. The colour of the water changes and there is moss everywhere!”
Adding, “This is a big project, so the road work is backing into our homes.”
Clearly the river is being filled with silt, construction waste, oil used for road paving, all contributing to increased flash flooding as it moves waste faster and in larger amounts
Fauna is also affected, with residents citing reductions in the amount of crayfish and other small fish downstream. River otters were common but they no longer use the river as a feed source.
Browning of river also occurs, which prevents recreational use. While at the same time new waterways have formed across farmlands hampering production. Already facing crop losses, several farmers have simply stopped farming and await the dry season which has just been officially declared started. Only time will tell if their livelihoods can recuperate.
With such negative ripple effects the concern has been raised as to whether or not the entire Highway project has received appropriate environmental clearance. Often, such policies or regulations are ignored entirely, representing yet another localised injustice.
This story was originally published by the International Federation of Environmental Journalists, with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and the Open Society Foundations.