Hyacinth choking rivers as croc-wary spraying crews keep off

2010-09-28 00:00

THE highly charged action associated with the Unlimited Dusi canoe marathon scheduled to take place in February next year seems to have started already.

However, it is not the canoeists who are behind the action. For now, crocodiles and water hyacinth — an alien water-borne plant choking up the Umgeni and Duzi rivers — are at the centre of the excitement.

Race organiser the Natal Canoe Club says many competitors are starting to train, but parts of the Umgeni and Duzi rivers are choked with hyacinth, which is growing uncontrolled by about 15% per day.

Working for Water, an organisation responsible for eliminating the weeds under the auspices of the Water Affairs and Forestry Department (Dwaf), has allegedly not been doing its job.

According to the Dwaf website, water hyacinth poses a threat to biological diversity and water security and loses the national economy costs billions of rands.

Natal Canoe Club spokesperson Ray de Vries told The Witness yesterday that water hyacinth has completely blocked the Umgeni from the N3 to above Reservoir Hills, as well as other stretches between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

“There are seven crews from Working for Water that are supposed to spray the weed daily, but our feedback is that they are scared of crocodiles,” De Vries told The Witness.

“We flew over the route yesterday and the situation is very bad.”

De Vries said that while the crocodiles pose a threat, the relevant authorities keep a close eye on where the reptiles are located and lay traps for them to protect paddlers.

He believes the fear of crocodiles is no excuse for leaving the weeds unattended.

Thabisa Motholwana, regional programme leader for Working for Water, said all the teams have been working normally.

She said the only unattended stretch is in Tongaat, where measures have been put in place to handle the situation.

She acknowledged that teams have not gone to the Blue Lagoon area because of reports of crocodiles, but said she has been advised by experts that the high salt levels in the water will kill the hyacinth anyway.

Motholwana said it is possible that the spurt of growth of the weeds is a result of the hot weather and the fact that municipalities discharge waste into the rivers.

Besides, it has been impossible for Working forWater to redouble its efforts as its budget is too small, she added.

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