Drive to save river

2014-11-20 00:00

A RIVER of despair is being turned into a river of hope in an innovative project to rehabilitate the heavily polluted Baynespruit.

The project is linked to the eThekwini Municipality and the Umgeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership (UEIP), which is also working on the Save Midmar Dam project.

The entire initiative is aimed at ensuring future water supplies for Durban, Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas.

Rodney Bartholomew, the manager of the environmental management unit at Msunduzi, said if people continue polluting the city rivers there is a very real concern about future supplies drying up.

The Baynespruit Rehabilitation Project got under way after the eThekwini Municipality approached Msunduzi just over a year ago, concerned about their future water resources and both the quantity and quality of water reaching the Inanda Dam, he said.

eThekwini was particularly worried about high levels of pollution going through from the Baynespruit, a relatively small tributary of the Msunduzi River that flows through the densely populated northern suburbs and the Willowton industrial area.

Bartholomew said Baynespruit has its headwaters in the residential area of Northdale and flows about nine kilometres through Willowton and Sobantu Village where it joins the Msunduzi River. Msunduzi feeds into the uMgeni River and then into the Inanda Dam, which is Durban’s primary water supply.

Bartholomew said over the years it has been subject to illegal discharges of industrial effluent, illegal dumping and extensive littering. The situation is exacerbated by poor storm water and sanitation infrastructure.

Esmeralda Ramburran, from Msunduzi’s environmental management unit, has been monitoring the water quality and said results have consistently showed that the stream has E.coli levels above 5 000 counts per 100 ml. This means the water is unsafe for swimming and is certainly not safe enough for the irrigation of agricultural crops.

Small market gardeners in Sobantu who grow their produce on the banks of the stream cannot use the water because their crops die, so they have to bring in water in drums and tanks from other areas.

In addition, all the dumping is choking the water supply and the quantity of water flowing in the stream has diminished over the years.

The initial contact between Msunduzi and eThekwini about the river pollution resulted in ongoing meetings that extended to other municipalities within the Umgeni catchment area as well as water agencies like Umgeni and concerned organisations. The result was the formation of the Umgeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership involving more than 20 organisations who have signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to preserve and improve the natural ecology around the province’s main water source.

• See page 11 for more on ‘Bringing a river to life’ — the innovative work being done on the Baynespruit.


Co-ordinator of Umgeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership Duncan Hay, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said that as part of UEIP the three water service authorities committed themselves to a pilot or demonstration project each; ­uMgungundlovu District Municipality has taken on the Save Midmar project, Msunduzi the Baynespruit initiative and eThekwini has taken on the Palmiet — a tributary of the uMgeni.

Hay said the Baynespruit Rehabilitation project was a great example of how to go about things.

“Rodney and Esmeralda have a clear plan, they have got full municipal support, and are getting community buy-in. They have also involved five UKZN research students. Their enthusiasm and professionalism is infectious. Their approach — what we can do rather than why we can’t do it — has become a rallying point for many stakeholders and is making good progress,” he said.

Hay is hopeful they will get business on board to reduce the industrial pollution load. “If they can get that right and get the sewers fixed then the water quality of Baynespruit will improve and the small scale farmers of Sobantu will be able to irrigate their crops once again.”

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