Tag Archives: water catchment

Don’t Fiddle With our Water Factories

In nature, there is no magic water factory – the water on the earth now is the same water that has been here since the beginning of time. Whether in the Karoo or the forests of the Congo, the basics of the water cycle are the same: Water falls on the land as rain, snow, sleet, hail and mist, runs into our rivers, fills our dams and underground aquifers, and flows out to the oceans. The sun evaporates this water, clouds form and some of it falls again on the land. This is the water that we all use. Only 3% of the water on our planet is freshwater (as opposed to saline) and only 1% is available for our use.


South Africa is a water scarce, semi-arid country, and unfortunately, even the little water we do have is often badly managed, used wastefully and polluted. It seems crazy then that hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which uses a lot of water AND contaminates water, should even be considered an option to boost our energy resources! A number of technical cooperation permits have been issued in the Midlands and Berg foothills, which give the holders rights to research the area as a desktop exercise with a view to fracking. In order to verify the amount of shale gas present and its viability as an energy source, prospecting or exploration as it is termed in the oil and gas sector, will need to take place. This activity has the potential to affect groundwater quality as it uses hydraulic fracturing techniques.


The KZN Midlands is a National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area. The role of the Drakensberg and foothills as the ‘water factories’ of Kwa Zulu Natal cannot be underestimated. Intact grasslands are important for storing rainwater in wetlands or as ground water which is gradually released throughout the year. It is vitally important to protect these areas which sustain the flow of clean water, supporting the lives and livelihoods of nearly 6 million people downstream. Other free ecosystem services provided by these Midlands grasslands include pollination, soil production, flood water attenuation, carbon storage, cultural and recreational amenities and support to subsistence livelihoods. The uMngeni River catchment supplies 1000 million litres per day of potable water to a vast area including Howick, Hilton, Edendale, Wartburg, Vulindlela, most of Durban and Pietermaritzburg.


The Midlands Conservancy Forum (MCF) opposes, on ecological, social and economic grounds, the use of fracking to recover natural shale gas. Specifically, the MCF believes that the risk of contamination of groundwater in an already water-stressed environment is simply unacceptable. Despite assurances from potential extractors that the technique is safe, evidence of failed safety measures and resultant contamination is increasingly common in areas where fracking has been undertaken, even under first world conditions. We can’t drink gas! Want to be better informed about this issue?


Learn more here: http://www.midlandsconservancies.org.za/prpagefracking.php

Winterskloof Gets Wet

Autumn is in the air.  We gathered on a beautiful, sunny, ‘freshly washed’ Sunday morning recently to enjoy the first of the Winterskloof Conservancy Water Workshop series.


Judy Bell writes:

Penny Rees of DUCT (Duzi-uMngeni Conservation Trust) and Mngeni River Source to Sea Walk fame began the workshop at Cowan House with a discussion about the need to look after our catchments in KwaZulu-Natal.

Our Valley is the watershed for the Dorpspruit, which feeds into the Msunduzi and then into the uMngeni River.  As you can see in the diagram below, the sources of about 12 streams are located right here in our Valley (shaded area) and our properties.  Hence the importance of us all becoming river custodians.

dorpsruit tributaries

Conservancies and communities along the uMgeni River and various catchments are forming partnerships with DUCT to assist in monitoring and protecting the rivers and their catchments in an effort to release more water of good quality into the system.  These workshops held in the Midlands Conservancies are educating communities to monitor rivers in a practical and easy way, so that we can all take action to improve the situation.  A grant from the N3 Toll Concession (N3TC) to the Midlands Conservancies Forum has enabled Penny Rees to run these workshops for the 14 Conservancies that make up the Forum.

The more people who learn to do these easy river health assessments, the more monitoring results will be available for the streams flowing through our properties and neighbourhood.  If we continue to record the results, we will be able to trend the quality with time.


Penny explained some fast-flowing facts about our water:

  • The uMngeni River arises in the uMngeni Vlei (Nottingham Road area) and flows to Midmar Dam (our drinking water supply) through intensively farmed areas – mainly dairy and pigs, with pollution from fertilizers, effluents and manure slurries, discharging into it.  It is also affected by raw sewage from blocked sewers, especially from the Mthinzima Stream, a tributary arising from the hills above Mpophomeni and flowing into Midmar.  Below the Dam, the river becomes heavily polluted in places as it flows through Howick, affected by contaminated stormwater, litter, raw and treated sewage.  The effluent from the Howick Wastewater Treatment Works flows over the edge of the krantz before the Howick Falls, into the Umgeni Nature Reserve.
  • The river is infested in many places with invasive alien plants such as bramble, bugweed, black wattle (Acacia mearnisii).  This is an invasive native to Australia, which grows unchecked in thickets, with no undergrowth to protect the bare soil, which then erodes easily.  The river previously meandered through grasslands, but with shading by the invasive wattle trees has changed the temperature and pH of the water, which encourages the growth of unhealthy micro-organisms and other plant life, affecting the river’s health.
  • Soil erosion, litter from illegal dumping and storm water drains, treated and untreated effluent all contribute to the deterioration in the health of the river as it makes its way to the sea.
  • Over one thousand million litres of water are abstracted from the uMngeni daily for domestic, agricultural and industrial consumption.  This is not sufficient to meet the increasing demand, which has led to the development of the Spring Grove Dam and Mearns Weir projects in the Midlands, transferring water from the Mooi to the uMngeni River.
  • Water is pumped at great cost from one catchment to another (e.g. Thukela-Vaal) to augment supplies.
  • Only appropriate developments should be allowed near sensitive wetlands and grasslands, which are often viewed as ‘idle land’, when in fact they are performing a life-saving role as water factories and cleaning agents.
  • eThekwini Municipality is currently spending around R1 million each month to clean uMngeni Water to drinking water quality standards and is now working with Msunduzi and uMgungungdlovu Municipalities to invest in the ecological or natural infrastructure that will help increase flows of good quality water into our dams – the wetlands, grasslands, forests in the upper catchments.  This is why the Midlands, with its ‘water factories’, is so important.
  • The River Walks that DUCT undertakes has shown that rivers can ‘heal’ themselves if there is sufficient space between the damaged areas (pollution and invasive alien plant infestations).   In the Cumberland Nature Reserve, this was shown to be a 10 km stretch without pollution, development or alien plant infestations.
  • Monitoring and knowledge of the health of rivers has become a priority, which is why the miniSASS river health assessments (Stream Assessment Scoring System) were introduced, to help citizens join the programme and learn about the water quality in their communities.

Water Quality Monitoring – No High-Tech Equipment needed!

The beauty of this testing system lies in its simplicity.  Anyone can learn how to collect a miniSASS sample on a river or stream, and determine the water quality and health of water resource.  It involves catching and identifying the number and types of macro-invertebrates (small animals) or “nunus” which live in the water.  These are barometers (indicators) of the general river health and water quality. Equipment consists of enthusiastic samplers of all ages using various plastic containers (yoghurt or margarine tubs) with mosquito gauze on top, children’s beach fishing nets and pot plant drip trays for the catch, as well as the miniSASS score card and invertebrate identification booklet.

Sampling the stream 16Mar2014

The group moved down to the Doreen Clark Nature Reserve, just below St Michael’s Road to do a miniSASS on the stream flowing through the reserve.  This stream flows throughout the year through the mist-belt forest, but picks up the run-off from the road and houses upstream, so is not expected to be in “pristine” state.  Under Penny’s guidance, the group quickly collected specimens from the stream amidst lots of ‘oohs, ahhs’ and muddied feet.


The “catch” was compared with the photographs and placed into groups.  The scores allocated to the different types of organisms was tallied and then divided by the number of groups to which they belonged.  Some organisms carried a higher score, as they are only present in “clean” water.  The stream scored 6.8 which is a rating of fair to good on the miniSASS scale (see Scoring Box below).

winterskloof mini sass score

We hope to involve the schools in the area to develop custodianship of the rivers and streams, to help with regular monitoring of the Valley’s streams’ health and water quality.  The website sass.orasecom.org has further details on testing, identification of the nunus, scoring and registration of the stream as well as a map, geographic coordinates and locations of the river or stream and how to submit test results which should be carried out with a minimum of 6 week intervals to allow the sample site to recover.


Penny said she thoroughly enjoyed herself and that it was great to see how the younger members got so involved!

SASS – Ecological Category (Condition) Interpretation Score

  • Unmodified (NATURAL)                                                >7.9
  • Largely natural / few modifications (GOOD)       6.8 – 7.9
  • Moderately modified (FAIR condition)                  6.1- 6.8
  • Largely modified (POOR condition)                            5.1 – 6.1
  • Seriously / critically modified (VERY POOR condition)    <5.1

Thanks to all those who joined us for the Workshop, to Cowan House for hosting us, Penny Rees for enlightening us, the Midlands Conservancies Forum and N3TC for funding the Workshop and for those who joined us.  Winterskloof will have another water workshop later in the year in Spring, so watch out for this.  Balgowan Conservancy will host one on 27 April in the Mpofana River.

For more information, check out the DUCT uMngeni River Walk miniSASS and miniSASS websites.


All the Mpop Action

Mpophomeni Conservation Group members have organised and participated in many different activities this past week – ranging from exploring the forests of Zululand, hosting visitors to the township, stroking snakes and flying high to see where Mpophomeni fits into the Midlands Water Catchment.


Ayanda Lipheyana and Lindiwe Mkhize represented Mpophomeni Conservation Group at the Annual CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildplants) Workshop in Eshowe from 30 August to 2 September along with other Midlands CREW members, Peter Warren, Alex March and Nikki Brighton.

r midlands crew

Ayanda reports: The workshop was attended by CREW groups from different provinces and university students from UKZN, UniZulu and Limpopo.  It was very exciting and wonderful to meet all these new people who care about plants. The speakers were experienced and the presentations interesting.  The first presentation was on taxonomy based on Kniphofia identification and the use of keys to find the species of the family.  Professor Braam van Wyk presented on the evolution of the Maputaland plants, talked about BioGeography and suggested reasons like temperature and underlying rock for the richness of species here – there are 230 endemic plants in the area.  In another presentation Braam talked about Grassland Ecology which was so interesting.

r walking lindiwe

Livhu Nkhuna from the Millenium Seedbank Project talked about seed collection and how we have to keep the seed safely so when plants are extinct in the wild they will be propagated.  Many CREW groups reported back on their activities for the year, the Midlands CREW (very new group) has focussed on inspiring and educating people to make the group stronger. We learnt about ferns from Neil Crouch, geology from Mike Watkeys, the importance of Herbarium specimens with Mkipheni Mgwenya, Alien species with Reshnee Lalla and the Pondoland paraecologist project from Sinegugu Zukulu.

r livhu cracking macadamias

We had a field trip to the Dlinza forest where we saw blue duiker and learnt so much about the trees and plants. The Philenoptera (Milettia) sutherlandia trees were very impressive and the Strangler Figs.  The Boardwalk was great, with an amazing view from above the canopy.  Albizia was flowering below us. We saw hornbills, sunbirds, white eared barbet, grey Cuckooshrike and many more birds in the trees.

r albizia

We also visited grasslands and forest at Entumeni Reserve.  It was a great experience.

r forest

Lindiwe commented: “I am so very happy to have this opportunity. The CREW information was breathtaking for me, now I understand what CREW is all about. The speakers from all walks of life gave us so much information and the fieldtrips to the forest were much fun.  I made unique friends from other places. Everything was super amazing!” 

r ayanda nikki lindz


The Quarterly Roadshow meeting of the Midlands Conservancies Forum was hosted by Mpophomeni Conservation Group on 5 September.  Visitors gathered at the library for a walk along the Mthinzima lead by Penz Malinga.

r mcf road show mpop 003

Mpophomeni was established in 1964.  A large wetland surrounds the township and the name Mpophomeni comes from the sound of falling water.

r mcf road show mpop 013

The wetlands are severely degraded and the Mthinzima stream which runs through the township is impacted by massive pollution, in particular overflowing sewerage pipes, with the mini-sass score dropping from eight where the stream rises in the hills to zero at the road after the township.

r mcf road show mpop 009

Penz pointed out the issues with surcharging sewers and general degradation of the wetland. Litter and the smell of sewage was evident.

r mcf road show mpop 006

We enjoyed sightings of Lap-winged Plovers (listed as vulnerable), Longclaws and found a Sacred Ibis feather.

r mcf road show mpop 008

We headed back to the library meeting room for juice, fruit and the best vetkoek in the township prepared by Ntombenhle Mtambo. Ntombenhle welcomed the group and thanked MCF for their role in fundraising to support the dreams of the “hardworking women of the Mpophomeni“.

r township burgers

Presentations by MCF were followed by uMthobo Enviro Club who told of their concern for the state of the wetland and then Thandanani’s drama about the importance of taking care of our soil, air, water, plants and animals.  Mark Graham from GroundTruth talked about the ability of polluted rivers to heal themselves (findings from the 2012 uMngeni River Walk) and introduced the soon to be launched online data collection website he has helped develop.

r mcf road show mpop 032


After many months of anticipation, Asanda Ngubane and Bulelani Ngobese, founding members of the Mpophomeni Enviro Club (facilitated by MMAEP), woke early on Saturday 7 September in preparation for their flight with pilot Craig Wing to get a bird’s eye view of the township, healthy wetlands and local rivers. The Mpophomeni Enviro Club established by the Midlands Meander Education Project in 2008, funded by N3TC.  Since its inception the focus has been on wetlands and water. Their friend Sihle was jolly envious of their adventure.

asanda sihle bulelani mpop res

Asanda is a Grade 9 learner at Mpophomeni High whose favourite subject is Science.  He has shown real commitment to the environmental cause championed by the Enviro Club over many years, attending regularly, participating quietly and diligently.   He is determined to be a scientist when he finishes school – definitely more of a thinker than a talker.   “We need the environment to be taken care of if we want our grandchildren to live a life that is super good like the old days.  Now the world is facing eco problems, but if I can do something then the planet Earth will be the best place to live. By that I mean, I want us all to do something to ensure the planet is good for many years.   Let us be the 21st Century that will be the ‘history for future life’ – we have to achieve that. We can if we work together and tell people why they should look after the wetlands and nature”.

Confident and well spoken, Bulelani also attends Mpophomeni High School.  His favourite subject in Grade 11 is Life Sciences. After school Bulelani is determined to pursue a career in environmental justice.  “It has been ten years since I started learning about the environment which surrounds us and the effect it has on our lives.  Today in High School, nothing has changed my mind about my love for the environment and because of that I have decided to be an environmental lawyer.  Yes, we don’t have a beautiful and healthy wetland in Mpophomeni but we are trying to take care of what we have. It would be amazing to get a view of other more healthy wetlands and rivers. It is always good to meet others and talk about the relationship between humans and the environment and know that the environment is the most important thing.   I do believe that together we can do more.”

Penny Rees is an environmental activist and EIA specialist for DUCT Howick who is passionate about water and river health. In 2012 she led the 311km walk along the Mngeni River from the source at uMngeni Vlei to Blue Lagoon, documenting all impacts along the river.  Her work has had a huge impact in the Midlands and the research has been included in the uMgungundlovu Strategic Environmental Assessment and other important documents.  She was guide for the flight while at the same time checking out the route she plans to take for the Lion’s River walk later this month.

r bulelani asanda penny mpop flight. JPG

Bulelani wrote this about his experience:  “My dream of flying came true today. As we took off we left all bad things and worries behind and flew over Mpophomeni, Midmar, Impendle, Howick Falls, Lion’s River and Inhlosane.

r inhlosane flight

We saw more than 20 dams and Penny told us about the link between the dams. The most good thing was that we saw some of the healthy wetlands which are not damaged in any way by human activities and which can support wildlife like uMngeni Vlei.

r mngeni vlei flight

We saw that human activities destroy and damage the environment and break the eco-systems.

r patchwork mpop flight

Today I saw things in a much bigger picture and realised that things are not as we see them here on the ground. This was the best experience and if I were to write the history of my life this would be on top.”

r kamberg  flight

Asanda was just as enthralled by the amazing adventure: “When you are in the air the places look like a puzzle. When we flew over Midmar, Penny told us that Midmar Dam feeds lots of paces with water and explained the difference between healthy and unhealthy rivers. Unhealthy ones have algae in them which is green. This is caused by sewage from the urban areas and dairy farms.

r dam flight

The most amazing thing which got my attention was that there is a Table Mountain which is not in Cape Town.

r table mountain flight

We got an aerial view of Howick Falls and also the new dam, Spring Grove which is not full yet.  We were shown a crocodile farm but unfortunately did not spot a crocodile.  We saw the source of the Mngeni river and the Karkloof falls, Albert’s Falls dam and Inanda dam, All of this was breathtaking. It made me realise that we must protect our environment.”

r giants flight

Penny concluded: “On my two previous visits to uMngeni Vlei – at the start of last years river walk, and earlier this year, we watched a Martial Eagle soaring above us and the vlei. I had the privilege yesterday to feel like that beautiful eagle, as I flew above the vlei in a tiny single engine, 4 seater plane, courtesy of the Bateleurs. Flying up from Maritzburg and following the river to the vlei, put everything into perspective as we sailed past stretches of the river that I recognised from May last year.  On turning to head for Oribi airport, I was sad that this wonderful flight was nearly over, and there are no words sufficient enough to thank both the Bateleurs for donating this flight, and Craig Wing our pilot for an awesome time soaring with the eagles.”


Bateleurs  is an organisation that “flies for the environment” – offering free flights to environmental organisations that could benefit from an aerial perspective. www.bateleurs.org  The Midlands Conservancies Forum organised this opportunity for Penny, Bulelani and Asanda.


Pat McKrill, The Snake Man,  is always a hit in Mpop.  This was his second visit this year – organised by MCG and sponsored by N3TC. A crowd  of excited kids gathered under the plane trees at Nokulunga Gumede Memorial as Pat unpacked his boxes.

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He explained clearly where snakes live, what they like to eat and how they do not want to harm humans except if provoked.

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With interpretation by Tutu, Lindiwe and Ntombenhle everyone learnt that when they see a snake the best thing to do is Stop and Stand Still.

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There was lots of interest in touching a snake although sitting still while one slithered under your legs was pretty challenging!

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Pat unpacked a cornsnake and a very beautiful big boa constrictor.

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Passersby stopped to see what all the excitement was about.

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Mpophomeni Conservation Group certainly are the change they want to see! 170 people belong to their Facebook group and they are about to launch into Twitter as well.  Join their group on Facebook – Mpophomeni Hills – and help spread their environmental message.

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