Groups join forces to save Midmar Dam

2014-08-25 00:00

IN a first for KZN, 20 organisations from government, business and the NGO sector have come together to save Midmar Dam.

University of KwaZulu-Natal academic Duncan Hays — the person credited with coming up with the phrase “saving Midmar”— is astounded by the momentum around the project.

Hays said a lot of work went into establishing the partnerships and the ultimate aim is to improve water quality and water security around Midmar. He said it was a project that looked at the bigger picture and bigger municipalities like eThekwini and Msunduzi had also come on board. From an economic development perspective, the aim was to make Midmar a number one recreational and tourist attraction.

Hays is well aware of the hammering that the Umgungundlovu District Municipality is getting over the crumbling sewerage infrastructure in Mpophomeni and accusations of rising E. coli levels in the dam.

He says the other organisations involved in the project are there in a watchdog role to ensure that the undertakings made to upgrade the sewerage infrastructure were carried out. Hays added that while the focus has been on Mpophomeni, there was also concern over an overload of nutrients flowing into the dam from farming operations upstream. He said farmers were coming on board and willing to co-operate in the project.

“This is a good news story, I see the momentum and the goodwill being encountered,” Hays said.

Mark Graham, director of Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust (Duct) described Save the Midmar Dam as “an iconic project that could lead the way for other such projects in the country”.

Riaz Jogiat from the Umgungundlovu District Municipality (UMDM) explained the background to Saving the Midmar Dam. He said that according to the catchment management plan for the upper uMngeni River undertaken in 2012, the quality of water stored at Midmar Dam had a high likelihood of turning eutrophic by 2028 if current levels of pollutants entering the dam continued to grow at its present rate.

Jogiat said a eutrophic Midmar Dam would have a cascading negative impact as the poor water quality will result in the destruction of aquatic ecosystems within the dam. The poor quality of water from the dam will result in steep rises in the price of drinking water due to increased costs of water purification.

It could even mean the inability to continue hosting the Midmar Mile due to the risk posed to health by the poor water quality. This would have a devastating impact on the region’s tourism economy.

He said it was this study that prompted the formation of the project.

Partners in the project include Umgeni Water, Duct, WWF, Ezemvelo KZN, WESSA, Midlands Conservancies Forum, the uMDM, the uMngeni Local Municipality, the Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Durban University of Technology, Sappi, Mondi, various farming associations and individual farmers, the Ingonyama Trust, South African National Biodiversity Institute, the IDC, the ­Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, the National Cleaner Production Centre and the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Development.

• nalini@witness.co.za

Turn to page 2 for more

UMDM Municipal Manager Sbu Khuzwayo said it did not deny as a water service authority being responsible for one of the key threats facing the dam. This was as a result of the wastewater pollution load from the Mthinzima River which flows directly into Midmar Dam due to the inadequate sewer reticulation system serving the Mpophomeni area.

“The responsibility to fix this problem is something we have taken responsibility for and have already implemented many short term measures which include employing more staff to improve maintenance of the infrastructure in the area, funding projects in partnership with DUCT to create

eco champions who monitor and report pollution incidents, detecting the state of the sewer reticulation network through undertaking CCTV diagnosis and appointing experts to design and eventually monitor construction of new sewer pipelines, pump stations and a new waste water works within the Mpophomeni area,” he said.

The Umngeni Residents and Ratepayers Association while impressed by the broader project remains critical that UMDM is not being more proactive in sorting out its sewerage problems.

URRA’s Mano Naidoo said the Save the Midmar Project shows benefit to the ecological system that will certainly benefit Midmar Dam and its Bio - diversity..

“This however is not enough .....priority measures need to be put in place starting with an education drive with residents of Mpophemeni and surrounding areas.

Naidoo said that in a public meeting hosted by the UMDM the Mayor spoke with pride about sorting out the Mpophemeni Sewage plant with a R 222mn grant from the Dutch.

“What was done with this funding?

Why did UMDM leave this Mpophemeni Sewage plant to become so dysfunctional.

“UMDM must be held to account for this dereliction of duty. Midmar Dam is the feeder dam that supplies all the dams on the Umngeni River.

“This problem was ignored by the UMDM for the past seven years.” Naidoo said the URRA will demand that the Waste water management and all the water treatment works be taken over by the Umngeni Water Board.

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