Danger stalks SA dams

2013-08-27 10:26
Wastewater is treated at the Macassar Treatment Plant outside Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Wastewater is treated at the Macassar Treatment Plant outside Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Video

Water action

2013-08-27 10:26

Hydrogeologist Christine Colvin, senior manager of fresh water programmes at the WWF SA, in this YouTube video, talks about the need to cost the entire water infrastructure in SA.WATCH

Cape Town - The pollution in South African river systems is an indicator of a looming water crisis if it is not managed correctly, an environmental researcher has asserted.

"A large proportion of our dams are what is known as eutrophic - that means that there's too much algae that is starting to live in the water because of nutrient like phosphate," hydrogeologist Christine Colvin, senior manager of fresh water programmes at the WWF SA told News24.

She warned that the release of toxins into drinking water in dams presented a risk to all water consumers.

"Those algae bloom and then they die, and when they die, they release toxins - cytotoxins - into the water."

According to her research, the most common pollutant in South African river systems was phosphate.

Natural means

"The most widespread pollutant in our rivers is phosphate and that's something that comes off agricultural land. It's released from the soil and it's used in fertilizers.

"Work that I saw published about two years ago said that 80% of our rivers were exceeding the phosphate levels," said Colvin.

Phosphate also occurs naturally and could end up river systems by natural means.

Colvin conceded that natural phosphate could naturally enter river systems, but said that the amounts of natural phosphate were usually very low and larger amounts could directly attributed to pollution.

"The natural phosphate levels are incredibly low so you can just have one poorly managed farm or one faulty wastewater treatment plant way up in river system and it's going to end up polluting that entire ecosystem," she said.

As a nutrient, the phosphate has a measurable impact on the river ecosystem which feeds the dams.

"Phosphate is a nutrient that then shifts the whole ecosystem of that river system, so you can start getting algal blooms; the indigenous and natural fish and vegetation that should be living in the river system are 'out-competed' and you have a whole new ecosystem that develops in that river," Colvin explained.

Research funding

According to the Water Research Commission (WRC), about a third of South African dams face eutrofication which occurs when high levels of pollutant in water bodies result in excessive plant growth.

The Water Wheel report of 2008 found that 35% of SA dams are impaired by the process of eutrofication, higher than the continental average of 28%.

Dams in Europe have a rate of 53% while those in North America are at 48%.

The WRC report said that SA had fallen from its status as a leader in the field of eutrophication study. This was due, in part, to a termination of funding for the research, the organisation found.

"Many of the researchers involved in early eutrophication research have since moved into better research fields, into consultation or have emigrated. As a result, appropriate management strategies directed against eutrophication have been seriously constrained by a widespread lack of understanding of the problem, particularly at the decision-making level."


- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    wrc  |  wwf  |  environment  |  water

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
14 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.