Tag Archives: water workshop

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”

nhlakaAnd David too!

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Splashing in Dargle on a Summer’s Day

Saturday 8th March dawned a glorious, sunny day as Penny Rees headed out to one of her  favourite places in the Dargle – the Dargle River on Howard Long’s farm Craigdarroch.

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This spot was chosen for the MCF/Dargle Conservancy Water Workshop because it is one of the few parts of the Dargle River which are in good condition.

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Penny reports: After tea and scones made by Howard’s wife Cheryl and daughter Jennifer, I showed everyone a slide show on the Dargle river walk which took place in January this year.  There was lots of discussion about how to clear invasive plants in the riparian zone and ideas and experiences were shared.

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We then headed out to the river, passing spectacularly large bulls, who gazed at us from a shady spot, and hearing about the history of the farm.

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The old stone storage shed that had been built by the original Scottish settlers (the Sinclairs) to double up as a fort if the need should arise.

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Above a cascade, Howard pointed out a large sheet of flat rock that was the ford (in the old days) – the only access to the farm! This must have been either terrifying or non-negotiable during heavy river flows!

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Howard told us how they drank the water from this Dargle stream until about 10 years ago. He has been clearing wattles and other invasive plants along the tributary gullies which feed into the stream for many years.

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“Once you take out the wattles, the indigenous vegetation comes back. It is a 100 times better than it was, but obviously, each year you have to keep going back and clearing.”

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“This river is only 18kms long,” he added “Surely, if we work together we can restore it to it’s natural state?”  Wyndham Robartes shared his experience of successfully clearing the riparian zones on his property using goats rather than chemicals.

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We crested a hill and there lay the Dargle River, clear bright water bubbling over rocks passing beautiful river banks with long waving veld grass that alternated with patches of forest.

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Penny explained how to do a miniSASS and armed with plastic containers, we were rearing to go.

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Getting our feet wet was an absolute pleasure as we hunted for the invertebrates in the river – we found stout crawlers, prongills and damselflies and plenty more.

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Once again (as during the River Walk in January) we hit the jackpot – Stonefly.

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The mini sass score for the days was 7.1  indicating that the river was in good condition.

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A lively discussion followed on the roles that the different invertebrates have in the river ecology – from the slow moving planaria that favour shaded quiet waters to the frenetic riffle beetles that rush around on the surface of the fast flowing water.

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Rose Downard found the morning  really interesting.  “Quite amazing what a difference it can make to the miniSASS score to find a Stone Fly, yet every insect has a part to play, including the humble snail. I think it would be wonderful if the whole of the Dargle River could be cleared of alien vegetation and restored to a healthy river again. It is an important part of the Dargle and should be treated as such.”

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Are You Coming to Curry’s Post?

Penny Rees spent the day finding the perfect spot to hold a Water Workshop on Saturday 25 January in Curry’s Post.  Part of the MCF Protecting Ecological Infrastructure Programme currently funded by N3TC.  She recounts the trip, and tempts you to join in the fun and enjoy some lovely Summer countryside.  Sarah Allan, Chair of the Curry’s Post Conservancy had earmarked a couple of potential sites, and together they spent a wonderful few hours finding the right spot.

I was reminded today of my old “anthem” by John Denver:  “Country Roads, take me home, to the place where I belong…..” as I wound my way along forestry tracks and besides bubbling mountain streams in the search for the perfect miniSASS spot

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The first stream was too much of a wetland below an earth dam wall,

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the second ran through a tiny valley dotted with Asclepiads

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and pink Watsonias

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and was oh so pretty, all set about with tree ferns, but too small and a bit difficult to access.

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We drove on, through the timber plantations – the green corridor formed by their beautifully kept buffer zone clearly evident.

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A couple of other stream sites had beautiful cascades

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stunning pools

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and pretty neighbours – but weren’t what I was looking for.

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We found just the right spot eventually, and turned for home, satisfied at our choice (and no, there is no picture – you will have to come and join us on Saturday, or read the blog afterwards).

We took a short cut to Sarah’s house, winding our way on a track that in places only Sarah could see…

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and in others – well, let’s just say I had to use my imagination in the long grass!

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We stopped to enjoy the evening beside a dam whilst frogs chirped, two Yellow-billed Ducks glided by silently, a Long Crested Eagle flew into the trees on the opposite side of the dam, and a Gymnogene landed above our heads, with her youngster shrieking pathetically for attention nearby.

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When the drizzle began we headed for home along the aforementioned grassy track, up the hills, through gates and timber

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until we seemed to reach the top of the world.

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As I got out of the vehicle to photograph this gorgeous Brunsvegia natalensis a warning whistle went up from three Mountain Reedbuck standing silhouetted on a nearby hill.

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As I drive back to Howick, I reflected on what a perfect couple of hours we had spent, and how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful place. My reverie was shattered as I entered Howick and was brought back to earth.

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If you would like to join us on Saturday, please contact Sarah on 076 578 2941

11h00 Presentation on findings of recent Lion’s River walk and hands on opportunity to learn how to do a simple miniSASS test to determine water quality.  Fascinating and fun too – for the whole family!   Bring your own picnic lunch.