Tag Archives: DUCT

Penny is Our Eco-Warrior

Midlands Conservancies Forum nominated Penny Rees – the intrepid River Walker and environmental activist – for the Eco-Logic Awards this year. She did not win the title Eco-Warrior, but we are adamant that she should have.

Penny has lived beside some of Africa’s most famous rivers Timbavati, Limpopo, uMkhomazi, and now the uMngeni. She first met the uMngeni River as a young intern at WESSA’s Umgeni Valley Reserve in the 1980’s. When she returned to run their Environmental Education Programme a few years ago, she observed a marked decline in river health.Penny2010_0708_104904

Her concern led her to DUCT (the Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust), whose mission is to champion the health of our rivers. She soon became an integral part of the team, monitoring the uMngeni River and submitting comments on development proposals.   This is the river that works the hardest in our province of KZN and is suffering as a result. She started to dream about a walk from Source to Sea and developed an action plan to make this a reality.

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During May 2012, Penny lead a team of volunteers to walk 311 kms from uMngeni Vlei to Blue Lagoon in order to raise public awareness about the plight of the uMngeni river. This captured the public’s imagination as daily updates were posted on their blog. Judy Bell, Chair, Midlands Conservancies Forum (MCF) said: “Most of us fear to dream so big, let alone work to realise the dreams to do more for the environment, but Penny did so courageously. The awareness raised has been invaluable to all those doing their bit to improve our planet’s ecosystems. She has done us all proud.”

Penny is quiet

The walk not only highlighted the plight of this important source of water, but gathered data that is being used extensively by other organisations working to protect water and other ecosystems that are our life support systems. Penny compiled a comprehensive report which included 26 miniSASS scores, all the negative impacts (invasive vegetation, erosion, poor farming practices and pollution) and recommended tourist trails along the river banks to improve surveillance and monitoring.

“Interest and enthusiasm for this sort of initiative has spread widely, illustrating what committed and keen individuals can do to make a difference, showing landowners how they can better manage these precious systems and influencing the way authorities are viewing our water resources. Data gathered has illustrated the greatest pressures on these systems. This work could, and is hoped will, become a national initiative undertaken by committed and caring citizens around the country.” Dr Mark Graham Groundtruth

Penny making notes in the Dargle river res

Penny is admired by her peers and environmental organisations for the very important work she does, contributing to the understanding of how theory and reality intersect. “Penny’s commitment is passionate and, impressively, much of her effort is voluntary. Her findings have been a wake-up call and have truly set a benchmark.” Barry Downard, Dargle Conservancy.

During the epic uMngeni walk, Penny realised that the many tributaries have an enormous impact on water quality. Since then, she has explored the Lions and Dargle Rivers and plans to do the Indezi in September and Mpofana in October 2014. Penny is always willing to share her knowledge and has presented numerous illustrated talks, gently pointing fingers at wrong-doers and suggesting remedial action. She hosts regular water workshops in streams and rivers to teach the community how to conduct simple miniSASS tests to monitor river health.

Dargle River Workshop 068

Andrew Anderson, river bank landowner comments “Thank you for showing us that this is not only about the ‘science’ of a healthy river system but equally importantly it is about the people and communities that live along its course. Thank you for the encouragement your bold project is having in urging me to take up the challenge to protect it AND to find ways of engaging with government, on behalf of the millions of people who are indirectly dependent on the uMngeni and her tributaries, to support landowners in conserving and managing its integrity.”

Penny and her team have a dream of a world where everyone understands how essential rivers are for all life on our planet. Preven Chetty is a regular member of the River Walk team: “Penny has been a tireless coordinator and without her diplomatic organising, the team might have been thrown off properties long ago. I feel honoured to be a part of her team. Besides the important data collection, she brings a spiritual aspect with daily water blessings and communion with the rivers. Penny is a true eco-warrior.

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Penny received two awards in recognition of her tireless efforts on behalf of our rivers – WESSA KZN’s Environmentalist of the Year and DUCT’s Chairman’s Award.

Kevan Zunckel of Zunckel Ecological & Environmental Services, who compiled the uMgungundlovu Municipal District’s Strategic Environmental Assessment, says “It is interesting to consider the difference in impact between the walks that Penny does and the water quality sampling of an institution like Umgeni Water. We get regular monthly reports based on the latter, all showing the seriousness of the situation, and yet nothing is done. These reports are received by many and yet it’s a bit like the frog in the boiling water. However, with the River Walks there is a far greater personal angle to the outcomes, as well as the fact that the water quality sampling is done as part of the walk and is therefore directly linked to what they observe as they walk down river. For me the most valuable insight to come out of the uMngeni walk was the ability of the river to “heal itself” as a direct result of riparian restoration work. It is on the basis of this finding that I calculated the possibility of being able to restore the entire length of the uMngeni River’s main stem for 10% of Durban Water’s monthly water treatment spend. I believe that this estimate played a pivotal role in persuading the Water Service Authorities and other key stakeholders to join the uMngeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership. These walks play an important role in catalysing action towards the restoration and better management of our catchments. I encourage the key role players in the catchments to follow Penny’s example and put as much energy and passion into their legal responsibilities.”

Penny’s connection to the rivers is a creative and spiritual one which compliments her environmental drive and pursuit of scientific data perfectly. At the end of the uMngeni walk she commented. “Here Mama River is an old lady – after a lifetime of nurturing and unconditional giving, she barely remembers her journey that started gently in the folds of distant hills. A life which began with sparkling, bubbling energetic youth, turned sour from abuse and hurt. If only we could all give back to her as she has given to us.”

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Peter Tompson, Chair of Upper uMngeni Catchment Management Forum concludes: “Penny is a remarkable lady. She has been passionate about environmental conservation all her life, much of which has been spent in passing on her broad knowledge to others. Her passion is, however, well-grounded in pragmatism and good sense, which makes her all the more credible.”

It is clear from this submission the esteem in which Penny is held. We believe she has more than earned the title of Eco-Warrior for the impressive contribution she has made to protect the ecosystems on which over 5 million people in KZN rely on a daily basis.

“He who hears the rippling of rivers in these degenerate days will not utterly despair.”  Henry David Thoreau

 

DUCT Are Greening the Future

DUCT recently won the Mail and Guardian Greening the Future award in the Community Conservation category.

Kholosa Magudu, a DUCT Groen Sebenza intern, accompanied Dave Still, to the Award Ceremony held in Sandton. She writes: The M&G Greening the Future Awards honour organisations for their outstanding innovation in environmental best practice.  I was quite moved at the quality of work presented by the different entries, finalists, and winners. We, at DUCT, envisage rivers where water quality and quantity are maintained at acceptable norms with healthy, natural riparian zones and where the biological diversity is preserved. We have a vision of a community where all residents possess a basic understanding and appreciation of their river ecosystems.kids in river.res

Our contribution to job creation and livelihood improvement of previously disadvantaged groups by physically addressing environmental problems through alien plant removal, water quality monitoring (citizen science) and community-based land care initiatives is promoting capacity-building and Ubuntu.

Since my recruitment as an intern in May 2013 under SANBI’s epic Groen Sebenza Programme, I have learnt a lot about the biodiversity sector through DUCT contributing to my personal and professional development. I have had many highlights since joining DUCT, however, the day attending the award ceremony was the best for me. This was the first time I travelled on an aeroplane and am grateful to DUCT management for this opportunity.

We are honoured to be one of the winners of “Greening the Future” Awards 2014. What a remarkable way of recognising, celebrating, and encouraging work that propels change and perpetuates green solutions to socio-political problems such as poverty, inequality and unemployment in our country. This kind of recognition and support fuels the train to the enhancement of our conservation efforts. Thank you Mail and Guardian!

kholosa and dave

The article below, about DUCT, written by Yazeed Kamaldien, first appeared in the Mail and Guardian.

The Msunduzi and Umgeni rivers are crucial natural resources for thousands of people living in KwaZulu-Natal, but levels of contamination in the rivers have increased dramatically over the past 10 years. The Duzi Umgeni Conservation Trust stepped in during 2005 with ways to address both river health and social and economic development.

The river systems had become “badly degraded through neglect and over-exploitation”, says the trust’s chairperson, David Still. “Instead of complaining about the state of our rivers, we would rather do something positive to rehabilitate them and to change the perception that decline is inevitable.” Urban rivers are highly stressed in cities all over the world, he adds. “Our vision is for healthy rivers that support healthy communities.”

kids in river by Dumisane

The trust’s role has been to work in partnership with other organisations, from both civil society and the government.“We recognise that the problems with the health of the rivers are large and have not developed overnight. Our vision is ambitious and will only be achieved through progressive, combined and sustained actions,” says Still. Apart from ensuring cleaner rivers, job creation for members of local communities has also been an achievement. For the last four years we had between 100 and 250 people working for us at any one time,” says Still.

One of the core elements of the campaign is a River Care Team that focuses on a particular length of river at a time, tackling whatever environmental problems are presented. “This could be illegal dumping, invasive alien vegetation, industrial pollution, sewage pollution, illegal sand mining and so on. We have provided many people with work experience and training, boosting their confidence and making them more employable by others.” Still says the long-term vision is to create a river custodianship system where the “respective landowners in a catchment each take responsibility for their section of river”.

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The trust is helping to set up such a system on the Dargle River, one of the tributaries in the upper catchment area. It also supports a number of local conservancy groups, each of which focuses on a particular stretch of river at low cost. The trust has also engaged children in its river revitalisation efforts. It has enlisted 73 schools in its eco-club programme and involved more than 3 400 learners in its river clean-up campaigns.

Its effort in monitoring sewage spills into the rivers and lobbying for improvements to sewage infrastructure have led to significant capital investment by the Umgeni Water and the Msunduzi Municipality in upgraded sewage works.

Another problem area requiring clean-up and monitoring has been illegal waste dumping. In response, the trust set up the Mpophomeni Sanitation Education Project in 2011, a community monitoring and education programme. “Local community members volunteer as ‘Enviro Champs’ and monitor and report on sewage leaks, illegal dumping and other environmental problems,” says Still. “The Enviro Champs have become well known in the communities as the people to whom such problems are reported. “They in turn ensure that these issues are properly reported to ward councillors and responsible municipal units, and also attend ward and municipal meetings to monitor progress and promote accountability.” END

Congratulations DUCT – this recognition for the incredible work you do to conserve our water catchment area is well deserved. 

DUCT’s vision is an ecologically healthy and biologically diverse uMngeni-uMsunduzi river system that provides sustained ecological goods and services for the communities that depend on them for their survival. We envisage that communities will show respect for the rivers and will take ownership and responsibility for the condition of the rivers, seeking to preserve their natural function and beauty.

duct enviro champs canoeing

DUCT recognises that the problems with the health of the rivers are large and have not developed overnight. Our vision is ambitious and will only be achieved through progressive, combined and sustained actions by government and civil society. DUCT’s role is to:

  • raise awareness of problems with river health
  • develop, demonstrate and encourage the adoption of solutions to these problems
  • support and learn from people and communities who wish to make a difference or are already making a difference to the health of their rivers
  • actively engage in river health projects, education and capacity building.

We work in partnership with other organisations, whether from civil society or government, who share our vision, to champion the environmental health of the uMngeni and uMsunduzi Rivers.

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DUCT has eight strategic focus areas.  These are:

  • Minimization of faecal waste in the rivers
  • Reduction of solid waste in the rivers
  • Reduction of industrial pollution in the rivers
  • Control and eradication of invasive alien plant vegetation on the river banks and in the rivers
  • Improvement of land care and reduction of soil erosion in the catchments
  • Reduction of water borne diseases in the rivers
  • Improvement of management of mining operations in the Valley
  • Implementation of an environmental flow schedule below the major dams, as provided for in the National Water Act of 1998

Duzi at its Dirtiest

This article written by NIYANTA SINGH appeared in The Witness recently:

The current water quality in the Duzi River is at its worst ever.  Environmentalists have raised alarm bells saying “it has been one of the worst summers for water quality”, with a peak in poor quality over the past six months, and are laying the blame squarely at the door of the Msunduzi Municipality, accusing them of neglecting the sewer maintenance section in terms of resources and management time.

camp's drift on Duzi

Previous newspaper reports indicated that the municipality had recorded four burst pipes per day, 520 mainline blockages and an ageing asbestos cement pipeline.

The last test done by the Duzi-Umngeni Conservation Trust (DUCT) on March 18 shows alarming figures of E. coli contamination, which is indicative of faecal content in the water and results in severe illness including diarrhoea, kidney failure, abdominal cramping and death. In the Baynespruit River near Greytown Road and Sobantu, the contamination rate of E.coli was a shocking 241 920 per 100 millilitres of water on March 18. Last month, during the Dusi canoe race, the figures for those areas ranged from 6 500/100ml to 14 210/100ml. According to DUCT’s guide, any E. coli contamination greater than 50 000/100ml is a severe contamination and one in three people or canoeists may get sick. The current contamination levels exceed this level more than four times.

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DUCT’s Dave Still said any E. coli contamination of 10 000/100ml is considered indicative of fairly significant pollution.  The only acceptable value for drinking water quality, he said, was zero E. coli contamination per 100mls.   No naturally occurring surface water, however, could be expected to have this low level of E Coli contamination. If it does, he said, disinfectants would have been added to the water.

Still said while E. coli data could be hard to interpret as it was extremely variable in time and space, the readings were always higher after rain.  This is partly due to spilling sewers and partly due to wash-off of surface faecal contamination. The last month has been pretty horrible, quality wise, but then it has been quite wet,” added Still. The worrying factor, for him, however, was the long term trend from 1998 to 2013.   This graph shows a score, a single number, for each year, and that score is the number of sites above 10 000 E. coli/100ml each week on average. You want this to be low, not high. As you can see from the graph, the trend is not good,” said Still.

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Judy Bell, also an environmentalist, said in addition to changes in the natural infrastructure, which was under huge strain because of growing property developments, the sewer maintenance section was badly neglected in terms of resources and management time.

Another environmentalist who did not want to be named said he did not think it was only failing infrastructure that contributed to the poor water quality.  “I don’t think it’s a question of failing infrastructure. Yes, some of the infrastructure does need upgrading, but that cannot explain a move in the index from 3,3 to 6,4 from 2010 to 2012. It might be a malaise that dates from the time the city went bankrupt, as the team was about to get some much needed equipment but then never got it,” said the source.

Still said in addition to the poor water quality threatening major water sports events, sewage pollution in the Duzi was causing a phosphate build-up in Inanda Dam, which in turn was causing algal blooms.

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Dr Mark Graham, also a DUCT Director and one of South Africa’s most highly respected river health scientists said the blue green algae, already seen covering the Inanda Dam this year during the Dusi canoe race, was more insidious and difficult to treat than water hyacinth. “Some of the paddlers would have noticed a unique smell coming up the valley … This was geosmin — a by product of the microcystis algal blooms and a potent taste and odour forming compound which costs huge amounts to treat in potable water. With more nutrient enrichment it will become more prevalent within the dam main basin and could eventually affect water treatment plants in Durban,” said Dr Graham. This algae, he said, had another by-product which was even worse than the taste and odour issue — a group of compounds known as E. coli. “It is highly toxic, particularly if ingested and in sufficiently large quantities. This is a great concern for most water supply companies in the world today as nutrient enrichment increases in most water supply dams,” said Graham.

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A DUCT team explored parts of the uMsunduzi river last year. Read about it here: