Grass-roots repair

2010-05-20 00:00

FORCED to change down to first gear to lurch over those bothersome speed bumps on Old Howick Road, motorists have been able to follow the progress of construction on a new water pipeline in the area. For a while now the construction site has looked like a giant red slash across the otherwise soothing greenness of the Ketelfontein or World’s View area.

However, by early next year, that bloody gash should be a mere memory — along with the speed bumps — once the site has undergone environmental rehabilitation.

The Witness reported previously that contractors appointed by Umgeni Water are constructing a bulk water pipeline between the DV Harris Water Treatment Plant and the World’s View Reservoir. The new 900 mm pipeline follows the route of an existing pipeline from the DV Harris works up to Queen Elizabeth Park, through the Victoria Country Club Estate and Golf Course, under the N3 and R103, through the Ketelfontein area to the reservoir. The total pipeline will be 5 775 metres long once it links up with the existing supply line in Umlaas Road.

Umgeni Water’s corporate stakeholder manager Shami Harichunder said that the laying of the pipe is not an easy task as it passes through a golf course, an upmarket housing estate, conservation areas, steep and rocky terrain and the Town Bush Stream.

Some 820 metres of the pipeline goes through the World’s View grassland, which has been a proclaimed conservation area in terms of the Msunduzi Municipality’s town plan since 1995. It is one of the seven mist- belt grassland biomes remaining in the region.

Harichunder said that because of the environmentally sensitive nature of the hill side, Umgeni Water was required to stay within the existing servitude where the old pipeline is located, since it is not “pristine grassland” like the rest of the area, but was disturbed by previous pipeline construction some 40 years ago.

“As per the National Environmental Management Act [Nema], Umgeni Water was required to draw up an environmental management plan for the entire project, not just the mist-belt grassland area,” Harichunder said.

The manager of the Msunduzi Municipality’s Conservation and Environmental Unit, Rodney Bartholomew, said Nema laid down “stringent requirements” for projects, such as the provision of bulk services, including an environmental impact assessment (EIA), a public participation process and consultation with all relevant stakeholders, among them the municipality and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

Harichunder said: “Prior to construction, Umgeni Water appointed botanical specialists to do a detailed vegetation survey of the mist-belt grassland area. Selected threatened or endangered species were carefully removed and relocated to a safe area within the biome, but outside of the construction area.

“We then appointed a team to remove approximately 4 800 indigenous bulbs from the servitude and store them at the Botanical Gardens under controlled conditions. The purpose is to replant them to achieve a habitat and biome as close as possible to that which existed before the construction.

“Once the plants were removed, the topsoil was stripped and stockpiled in a specially demarcated area to keep it separate from the generic topsoil generated off the rest of the pipeline route. Again, the intention is to replace exactly the specific type and quantity of topsoil that had been removed from the mist-belt grassland. This topsoil contains a unique mixture of bulbs and seeds that are believed important enough to give this resource individual attention.

“When the pipe-laying activities are completed, the ground will be remodelled and the top soil replaced. These operations will take place simultaneously due to the steep and rocky nature of the terrain. On completion, the pipeline servitude will ‘tie in’ with the surrounding ground level. The bulbs will be planted at the end of winter and regrassing will follow during October or November, depending on climatic conditions.”

Harichunder said this work will be undertaken in spring because any attempt to get the endemic grass seed to germinate will not succeed during the winter months. “We originally intended to have the area shaped with top soil and seeded by now, but this was not possible because construction was delayed by the unusually wet summer that Pietermaritzburg experienced.”

Umgeni Water has also agreed to assist the Msunduzi Municipality with the care of the Ketelfontein grassland. A team of specialists will clear the alien vegetation in the area, carry out a maintenance programme for the next growing season, assist with burning the brush and carry out a survey. This is required to improve the conservation status of the grassland by having it declared a protected area registered with Ezemvelo. This is a joint initiative by Umgeni Water, Ezemvelo and the Msunduzi Municipality, Bartholomew said.

Except for an access track along the servitude, most of the first 1,4 km section of the pipeline that runs between Ferncliffe and the Victoria Country Club Estate has already had top soil put down and the revegetation process initiated.

The final section of the pipeline runs through a timber plantation so Umgeni Water discussed the rehabilitation of this section with NCT management.

“It was agreed to hold over topsoil replacement and reseeding until after the timber has been harvested at the end of September. This will then also fall within the next growing season, giving the rehabilitated areas a better chance of full recovery,” Harichunder said.

Bartholomew said: “Umgeni Water has met the Nema requirements adequately and our unit monitors the progress of the project regularly. In some cases, Umgeni Water has gone the extra mile and exceeded the requirements of its mandate, by, for example, clearing alien vegetation around the corridor through the conservation area where it is working.”

Harichunder said all rehabilitation measures will be completed by December and the temporary speed humps on Old Howick Road removed once the earthworks are complete and “any possible danger to the travelling public has been reduced”.

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