Tag Archives: ecological infrastructure

Thukela in Trouble

Many people are concerned about the state of our water resources and rivers.  Judy Bell wrote this article after reading about the discussions at a recent Thukela River’s Simunye Environmental Forum meeting. They should be a wake-up call for us all.

There is a concern that this years’ flow has been the worst experienced in recent years, which is a problem as the Bulk Water Abstraction hasn’t even started yet. The River reserve is 6 cubic metres per second (cumecs) and the river level came down to 5.4 cumecs in September. Concerns were raised that there are a lot of developments coming in and these figures are worrying.  Also noted was the fact that Sappi Tugela Mill’s water abstraction rate is below 35Ml and decreasing – as they are continuously optimising processes; and that there is an off-take of ±7 cumecs for municipal use.

r tugela river

Thukela River from the N3

Judy writes:

This also really disturbing in view of all the water supply allocations for Richards Bay’s developments that will (and already do) rely on the Thukela River and the essential role of the Thukela Bank for the fishing industry up and down the coast and the health of the Estuary.

The same has occurred down the south coast with Sappi Saiccor having to stop production at around the same time due to low river flows – this even before the impacts (which will further reduce flow) from the anticipated Smithfield dam being planned for the Mkhomazi River!

There is a general lack of understanding of the link between rain and the ecosystems that sustain flows of good quality water on the one hand and on the other, the negative impacts we have on these life support systems from inappropriate development in the catchment, including the built infrastructure for storing and conveying water. 

There is an increase in demand for water throughout KZN (and elsewhere, with export of our water to other provinces) due to increase in population and a move to urban areas.  This in turn drives  development of the remaining open/green/natural spaces, additional dams and inter-basin transfers.  We are now affecting the functioning of the remaining ecosystems responsible for the continuous flows of good quality water.  This will have a further effect on the capacity of these life support systems to provide us with the essential basics for daily living.


Water does not come from a tap!  We cannot continue to transform/develop the grasslands and forests (or allow deterioration from alien invasive plants and erosion) at the current rate, especially the watersheds and the aquatic ecosystems they support, on their life-sustaining journey to the sea.  Investment in ecological infrastructure is essential before we build more dams or transfer more water between catchments to support growth that is unsustainable – there are limits to growth and the availability and quality of water is setting the boundaries, whether we like it or not.

r sheep wetland de beers pass 091

There is hope – It is cheaper to invest in the catchment than it is to build dams and interbasin transfer systems.  Using Working for Water and DUCT’s (Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust) figures, Kevan Zunckel calculated the following and concluded that ecological investment is a no-brainer:

  • ± R40 000/month is needed for every kilometre of river rehabilitation (invasive alien plant and erosion control)
  • improves the aquatic assimilative capacity and help mitigate the impacts of climate change too
  • positively affects the river health and that of those living closest to the rivers and who rely on the resource (usually the poor)
    • It currently costs the eThekwini Metro around R 100 million/month to treat river water to potable water standards (Neil McLeod provided this figure, some say it may be half that – gobsmackingly huge no matter which one is used!)
  • This would reduce the ever-increasing costs of water treatment
  • It would also provide much needed work for people living in the catchment.
  • Avoid loss of dam capacity due to siltation and pollution (they cost a fortune!!)
    • a new dam lost 70% of its capacity in 3 years due to sediments from the degraded catchment
    • some KZN dams can no longer be used due to the silt load and/or eutrophication but were built at great cost (financial, social and environmental).

As a result, eThekwini Metro, Msunduzi Local and uMgungungdlovu District Municipalities have started to invest in ecosystems and this needs to be replicated around KZN by all spheres of government, industry and communities alike.

We have all felt the violence of service delivery protests from community frustration at just a local level.  Can you imagine what will happen when all the taps run as dry as the rivers that supply them?  The back lash from the electricity load shed we are currently (pardon the pun!) experiencing will be piddling in comparison.

We need to ensure that people understand this is a finite resource and everyone cherishes every drop and protects the ecosystems that struggle to provide for our needs.  Please help to inform and inspire your colleagues, friends, family and networks.

Some quick reads:

Mpofana River – Report & Recommendations

The DUCT River Walk team have just completed their exploration of the Mpofana River. This is part of the Midlands Conservancies Forum’s Protecting Ecological Infrastructure Project which includes monitoring the tributaries of the uMngeni river and conducting water workshops for Conservancies.  N3Toll Concession fund the costs of these projects.  For more information about this river see the River Walks blog at:

How do you respond to a community who are facing the future impacts and threats of phase two of the Mooi-uMngeni Transfer Scheme, initiated in the mid 1980’s when phase one of this scheme came into operation, transferring water from Mearns Weir on the Mooi River into the Mpofana, a tributary of the uMngeni?

Today, with phase two (Spring Grove Dam and transfer) close to completion, this community faces the threat of inundation of lowlands and causeways, cutting off access to parts of their farms,


loss of land and damage to buildings through erosion,


decline in the ecology of the river, canalisation i.e. the straightening out and acceleration of water flow and erosion of banks, and future lack of seasonal variation in flow – the highs and lows which are part of the healthy riverine ecology.


From a macro picture the two big threats that affect rivers with transfer schemes worldwide, are transfer of nutrients, invasive plants and other contaminants from the transferring catchment, in this instance, the Mooi River. Transfer schemes are recognised as contributing to the reduction in riverine ecology and reducing the lifespan of dams through siltation.


These are some of the issues that came under discussion at a meeting of the Balgowan Conservancy last night at the home of chairperson, Yvonne Thompson, where members heard a summary of the three day Mpofana riverwalk by team leader, Penny Rees.

penny rees

There are so many impacts within the 32m buffer and associated wetlands, potentially affecting the Mpofana such as: the uMgeni pipeline,





buildings; homes and pump houses,


a cemetery under construction,


gardens, pastures,


eroded livestock access points,


rubbish pits,



haybale storage


and alien vegetation including black and silver wattle, bramble, encroachment of timber plantations


and escaped garden species.


It must be noted that any disturbance of the natural riparian vegetation along the river banks will invite the presence of alien species, erosion, loss of soil health and biodiversity. This loss, negatively impacts the health of the river.

It is heartening to note the extensive work being done by the Balgowan Conservancy and landowners along the river to address some of these issues and in particular the eradication of alien invasive species.


A huge congratulations and thank you to everyone involved in this valued work.


It’s been a pleasure walking the Mpofana river and these are some of the considerations that we have held in mind as we made sense of our observations and make initial interpretations of the data collected. We are grateful for the support and enthusiasm of the landowners along the route and it is wonderful to interact with such a close community that cares so much about the river and the future of their valley.

intact indigenous vegetation on mpofana

We would like to thank Yvonne Thompson for hosting the riverwalk team, for her kindness, generosity and hospitality in accommodating us in her beautiful home at Caversham Hall.


We wish the Balgowan Conservancy everything of the best as they continue their efforts to ensure the health of the Mpofana River and the well-being of the Balgowan community that act as custodians of this beautiful little river and all its tributaries.

Richard Hunt at Riversfield

Some recommendations to improve the health of the Mpofana include:

  • Tackle newly emerging alien invasive species as part of regular farm work on an on-going basis, prioritising riparian areas.
  • Based on the pending Mpofana Riverwalk Report develop a strategic plan and source funding for prioritising, implementing and coordinating the alien invasive species eradication programme.
  • Target particularly invasive species which are not necessarily common invaders in this catchment, for example, Camphor, Privet and Syringa, Catsclaw before they become a future threat.
  • Prepare a long term strategy for reducing and eliminating invasive garden escapees such as; canna/Indian shot, Japanese honeysuckle, Periwinkle, Wondering jew, London Plane tree, Pyracanthus (Fire thorn)
  • Ensure all new development goes through the appropriate planning process that ensure any application for development within the 32m buffer zone undergoes the necessary EIA and other planning process.
  • As far as possible, limit or reduce livestock access to the river banks and into the river.
  • Develop a plan for the withdrawal and appropriate re-siting of existing intrusions into the 32m buffer.
  • Re-site waste pits to outside the 32m buffer (consider recycling the bulk of landfill at a local recycling centre)
  • Avoid mowing in the 32m buffer, allowing for the regrowth of indigenous vegetation as habitat for riverine species, including invertebrates which are key species for river health.
  • Ensure all dams release some water back into the stream to ensure that the stream remains healthy and does not dry up.  This is usually done by means of a pipe built into the lower section of the dam wall so that there is always a flow of water being released.  These pipes sometimes block and stop functioning and need to be checked regularly.


Some recommendations for addressing the future threats of the Mooi-uMgeni transfer include:

  • Monitor your stretch of your river, measure the size and depth of the channel, take regular photographic evidence.
  • Be in contact with the ECO (environmental compliance officer) for the MMTS pipeline and insist on regular updates and community interaction.
  • Obtain a copy of the EMP (Environmental Management Plan approved as part of the ROD (Record of Decision) and check that this is being followed.
  • Constitute a Water Users Association as legislated within the Catchment Management Agency framework to legalise and protect your water rights and to enable recognised interaction with respect to both the health of the Mpofana and the impact of the transfer scheme.
  • Know and take up your rights with respect to public participation and protection of the environment and don’t give up in the face of the challenges facing the Mpofana and its community as custodians of this river and its significance within the greater context of Kwazulu-Natal.

The DUCT River Walk Team – Penny Rees, Preven Chetty, Pandora Long, Moraig Peden and John Fourie