What is the Environment? What is the difference between Geology and Geography? From a socio-economic perspective, what is the difference between mining for gold and building a dam? If you choose to pursue a university degree in Geography what kinds of jobs will you be eligible for upon graduation?
These were just a few of the many questions discussed with Shea O’Connor Combined School geography students and teacher Mr Steven Mthethwa who recently toured the Spring Grove Dam in Rosetta. The tour gave students a unique, behind-the-scenes look at the dam, its construction, the impact that it has had on the surrounding social and biophysical environments, and the people employed to build it.
The day began with a Site Induction – a reminder to all visitors of the do’s and don’ts of visiting a construction site. These procedures include wearing a hardhat, suitable footwear and a reflective vest (Personal Protective Equipment) while being aware at all times of moving vehicles and machinery. As safety is first and foremost, talking on cell phones while on a construction site is not allowed!
Upon arrival at the TCTA Visitor Information Centre, students were greeted by Mr Lucky Sanust, Spring Grove Dam Information Officer. Mr Sanust told the students about the various ways the construction of the dam impacts surrounding landowners and how these impacts – the generation of fine particulate dust and noise, siltation of water and the removal and relocation of 45 graves – are being monitored and mitigated. For example, dust generated from truck traffic on the D146 that can have a negative impact on human health is mitigated by trucks spraying this gravelled road with water during daylight hours.
Next, Katie Fenenga, AECOM Social Monitor, and Sandhisha Jay Narain, AECOM Environmental Monitor gave a fascinating and interactive presentation about their personal career experiences since graduating with degrees in Geography and Environmental Management. Katie described working and traveling throughout Central and East Africa working on exploration sites for international mining companies. This work included flying into remote villages in the DRC via helicopter to interview community members about their lifestyles and helping establish a tree nursery in Mozambique.
Sandhisha’s career experiences have included working on Transnet’s National Multi Products Pipeline and Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium. She shared her exciting experiences as being part of the build-up to the 2010 World Cup.
Afterwards the group, accompanied by Tshepiso Molaba, TCTA Environmental Trainee, were taken by bus to view the dam wall at several locations. Construction of the dam on the Mooi River began in February 2011 and the basin is currently filling.
The dam wall is 607 m long, 37 meters high and is made of composite roller compacted concrete (RCC) with an earth embankment. It is smaller than Midmar Dam; its gross storage volume is 140 million cubic liters as compared to Midmar’s 235 million cubic litres. Its surface area at full supply level will be 10.22 km2 as compared to Midmar’s 17.93 km2. A process is currently underway to establish how the water body may be used for recreational purposes, but at the moment the dam is solely for water storage and not for recreation.
Afterwards, the group returned to the Visitor Centre to enjoy lunch and ask additional questions. Lungisani Mthalane described his impressions of the experience. “This was one of the best, best, best excursions I have ever had – it was a most fruitful and interesting trip. My classmates were surprised and astonished. I felt proud that I knew the people at the dam and their presentations were so cool. (Lungisane visited in April) It was more like the career wise orientation. It helped me to take the final decision on my career without any regret at the end. It made me realise that my career choice is the right option. It proved to us that the basics we learn at school are also needed at the Tertiary education as well on the Real life situations. But out of all, what was running in my mind is that we can’t just keep on building dams. I hope one day we will find a better solution to the water issue. There were lot of things that I discovered whilst we were going around the construction site. Lastly special thanks to the guys we met there, they brightened out my mind.”
Sandhisha Jay Narian commented about the day, “it was refreshing to meet young students who are so invested in their future. Their questions and answers were well articulated, and students displayed a decorum that was both motivating and encouraging.”
Katie Fenenga remarked, “the day renewed my enthusiasm for my field, and that if young people like the Shea O’Connor students are South Africa’s future environmental managers, the country will be in good hands.“
This excursion was organised by Ann Burke of KZN Crane Foundation and the Spring Grove team. Mlhlangeni Conservancy (much of which will be under the dam) used their allocation of the Midlands Conservancies Forum – Environmental Learning and Leadership Programme, funded by N3TC, to assist with costs.