Tag Archives: mpofana

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,

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loss of land and damage to buildings through erosion,

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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roads,

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buildings; homes and pump houses,

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a cemetery under construction,

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gardens, pastures,

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eroded livestock access points,

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rubbish pits,

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haybale storage

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

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and escaped garden species.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Mpofana in Peril

Members of the Midlands Conservancies Forum gathered in Balgowan recently to explore Milestone Forest and learn more about the fate of the Mpofana River.

It was the ancient Yellowwoods of Milestone that inspired the first Conservancy in South Africa – formed right here. Walter Addison shared some of the history of how they came to be here (survivors of the last ice age) as we gazed in awe at the giant trees that form the ‘Cathedral’.

r mcf balgowan roadshow 013Balgowan Conservancy hosts a guided walk in this forest on the first Friday of each month. It is well worth a visit. Contact Marilyn on 082 427 3365 to book.

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As we drove back to Michaelhouse we passed the spot where the water release/outfall from the new Spring Grove Dam will enter the Mpofana river. We had invited Kate Fenenga of TCTA to address our meeting on the impacts the Spring Grove water release will have on the Mpofana, but she was not able to unless we submitted all the questions we might ask beforehand.

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Instead we had Kevin Meier from Umgeni Water share their operating philosophy of Spring Grove Dam.   This was really interesting.

He told us that the uMngeni river catchment is now completely utilized and that we cannot build any more dams on these rivers. Their job is to supply water to the municipalities. They pump as much as possible to keep Midmar and Albert Falls dams full and watch the weather closely to stop pumping when rain is imminent.

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Obviously, we were most concerned about the impact of more water on the Mpofana river as the Mooi Mearns Transfer Scheme (MMTS) had already had a negative impact according to some of the landowners present.

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Kevin said “We believe we can release 4,5 cubic metres per second without impacting the environment.” Currently they transfer 3,5 m3 in the wet season (about 3 months of the year). Once the new pipeline is in they will increase transfer to maintain continuous minimum flow of 4,5m3 although pipe capacity is 5,4m3. The thinking is that the river will adjust from minimal basal flow to 4,5m3 over the first year or two of operation. We were aghast to hear that this release will continue throughout winter when the normal river only has about 1 cubic metre per second of water. No doubt this will impact negatively on the health of the river.

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Balgowan Conservancy members whose properties have already been affected by the raised levels of water in the Mpofana (from the Mooi Mearns Transfer Scheme) asked questions about their causeways, river banks and bridges. Kevin suggested that most of these concerns needed to be addressed by DWAF, not Umgeni Water. Apparently the Dept of Water Affairs is about to conduct a survey of the entire Mpofana and Lion’s rivers. It appears that their main focus is on erosion of the river banks, not the ecological health of the riparian zone. They assume that the river will realign itself. SASS surveys will be conducted four times a year above and below the outfall to monitor the impact.

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Kevan Zunckel was up next. Kevan has done extensive research the negative affect of dams in general and the importance of keeping our rivers intact and shared some fascinating information with us, relating to the points Kevin Meier had raised.

It is currently costing Durban R100 million to treat water – Durban’s current water treatment bill is approximately R100 million per month and based on the findings of the uMngeni River Walk where the water quality improved from extremely poor to natural below the Albert Falls Dam as a result of riparian vegetation restoration, it can be calculated that it will cost 10% of the monthly water treatment spend to replicate this restoration work along the entire length of the uMngeni River’s main stem. This would lead to the creation of hundreds of jobs and a reduction in the treatment costs.

Both the Lion’s and Mpofana rivers do an excellent job of assimilating impurities. These tributaries are highly sinuous, i.e. they meander extensively, with associated flood plains and oxbows. This gives them the potential to assimilate both sediments and impurities as the actual length of the channels is significantly longer than the direct distance between a source of pollution and Midmar dam (as the crow flies).

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The nutrification of the big dams – this would be “eutrophication”, i.e. the artificial or accelerated increase in nutrients coming from intensive agriculture. We know that the Lions is not in good condition and has a dense concentration of intensive crop and animal production activities along its banks and in the catchment, and now that the MMTS-2 is coming on ‘stream’, the added impurities from the Mooi system will exacerbate this situation. Although Umgeni Water’s water quality monitoring suggests that the Mooi and Lions are in pretty good shape, it is possible that with a little more intensive monitoring a different picture will emerge. Penny’s walk of the Lions showed this to be true. Without the MMTS-2 I have been told that the prediction for Midmar’s eutrophication to similar levels as Hartebeespoort Dam, was between 15 – 20 years. Now with the MMTS-2 adding to the system, it is predicted that this may happen in 10 to 15 years.   Inanda is already showing signs of algal blooms in the upper and mid sections, but its depth and convoluted shape allows for this to be dealt with by the time it gets to the lower end where the raw water is abstracted. So it is not a water quality and treatment problem as yet, but in drier years when the concentration increases, it could well reach the threshold from which it tips across to the Hartebeespoort type of situation.

Ecological infrastructure has the capacity to do wonderful things with our messes, but if we push the systems too far, then we will exceed this capacity and lose the ecological services. Intensive agriculture can work with ecological infrastructure if it recognises the value of the services and respects the thresholds, otherwise that is when the R100 million/month bills begin to emerge.

It turned out to be a truly interesting afternoon, with plenty of food for thought. MCF has raised funds (from N3TC) for the DUCT River Walkers to explore the Mpofana this month, Balgowan Conservancy is helping with the organisation and generously providing accommodation. Follow the journey on their blog: www.umngeniriverwalk.wordpress.com

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As we left, a Spotted Eagle Owl nest with a couple of chicks was pointed out to us in the car park – beside the busy rugby field! Despite the handy ledge that was built especially for them, the noise must have annoyed them after a while – or perhaps the heated debate at the MCG gathering was the final straw? They have now all moved to the Rectory garden where they are thriving. Nature certainly is resilient and adaptable, but as Kevan Zunckel said – it is about thresholds, sometimes we push Nature too far. Then we will all suffer.

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Gomfidae in Mpofana – Yay!

Brave Balgowan Conservancy hosted a Water Workshop just as the water was starting to get chilly.  This is part of the MCF Protecting Ecological Resources Project funded by N3TC. Priscilla Young wrote this report:

Penny Rees gave us a super talk with video footage of her walk from the source of the uMngeni river to the sea.  Then we then went down to the Dormer Bridge where we went wading into the Mpofana River.  Here we look up streammpofana from dormer bridge

Penny said this was going to be the perfect spot for us to do our testing and collection of species. We are now “Entomologists of the Aquatic kind”! However, this was not a pretty place on the river.

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We found a nice flat rock to sit on and scrutinise what we found,  lots of rocks and slow and fast moving water – the ideal spot for a miniSASS test.

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Time to get the feet wet – Yvonne, Nhlaka and Penny start ‘fishing’

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Nhlaka has caught a “tub” full of “goodies”

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david crowePenny, Yvonne and Nhlaka sifting and identifying their catches with magnifying glass to get a closer look.

yvonne nhlaka penny 1All the Yoghurt pots have been emptied onto the platter for examination by the “catchers” and listed by Penny. All sorts of interesting little water creatures were discovered – ready to be photographed and catalogued.

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This fellow was our major find! Apparently quite difficult to catch and find, and I believe the Dargle Conservancy will be quite jealous of this chap! This is his grand name! Dragonfly: Gomphidae Mini SASS Score: 8.25: Natural, unmodified condition. Penny commented“Howzat?! Not often we find such a good score.”

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What a fruitful day. The weather was fantastic and Penny came to the conclusion that at this point – The Dormer Bridge – the Mpofana River was really very clean BUT we now wait to see what happens further upstream and when the Spring Grove Dam comes fully into operation.

Penny adds: The Mpofana is a crucial part of the Mooi uMngeni inter-basin transfer as the water from the Mooi River is deposited into this stream. This is already causing erosion, so everyone is waiting with bated breath to see what happens when the increased amount of water is sent down from the new Spring Grove Dam.

This is a list of what was caught/found in the River and we now have to monitor on a regular basis. Hopefully more people will join us in the next in the Water Workshop. It really was a lot of fun!

  • Flat worms: Planaria
  • Fresh water shrimp
  • Stonefly: Perlidae
  • Minnow Mayfly: Baetidae
  • Other Mayfly: Heptagenidae, Tricorythidae
  • Dragonfly: Gomphidae
  • Bugs / Beetles: Gyrinidae, Veliidae
  • Snails: Ancylidae

Penny Rees and her team of DUCT River Walkers will be exploring the entire Mpofana River in October this year.  Read her version of the day’s events.

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