Mining the Mooi River

2013-05-02 00:00

MANY of us may have at one time or another popped into a hardware shop and asked for Umgeni sand for a building or gardening project. Have you ever thought about where it comes from? Probably the Umgeni River. As long as there is construction, there will probably be sand mines; however, sand mining on the Umgeni River (and other rivers) seems to be uncontrolled, and many of the mines are illegal. Judy Bell, chairperson of the Midlands Conservancies Forum asks: “What are the alternatives? Should we rather be using different methods for building? Should we be mining places where the impact would be less, for example before the river empties into our dams, which are getting shallower due to the silt from erosion upstream? There are ways to prevent turbidity affecting water quality, for example turbidity curtains. This all adds to the cost. We all want more for less cost and this is where the problem starts.”

Damning pictures of sand mining were taken on the Mooi River recently.

When confronted by the Department of Water Affairs, the owner of the company admitted to taking sand, but he was adamant he is not the only person doing so and said he is prepared to “rehabilitate the area” he is mining.

Apparently, he was also “sold” sand by a landowner bordering the Mooi River. Are farmers allowed to sell sand from rivers on their properties? With no consideration for the consequences downstream?

You wouldn’t dream of eating fish that was not sustainably harvested and you probably question restaurants every time you order a meal, so we should all ask hardware shops where their Umgeni sand (and other sand and stone) comes from. Is it legally mined? Is there proof of this? If the shop is unsure, refuse to buy it. The more people who do this, the more we will be able to insist on a manifest for all sand being sold.

Unlawful sand-mining operations can result in significant environmental harm. Directly causing habitat change through erosion and destruction of vegetation and the newly disturbed earth is ideal for invasive vegetation to take hold. Mining can cause turbidity in the water and impact on fish and other organisms. Adjoining ground water could be affected and the integrity of bridges and other structures may be compromised. The sand on the beaches of our coastlines originates from our rivers.

Judy Bell comments: “Besides irreparable damage to ecosystems, there is the increased risk of downstream flooding and of course, beaches are not replenished which leads to their erosion during severe weather. The consequences and the cost are being borne by society at large, not by those who profit in the short term.”

Di Jones of Coastwatch adds: “As we all know, this is not a unique situation in Mooi River. The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs has just co-operated with the Green Scorpions to do a swoop on illegal operators on the Mvoti River and other major known sites, some of which were closed down. The best way to identify the illegal sites is to get the operators who are known to be legal and in compliance to tell the authorities where the illegal operators are. The damage to the riparian zones in our region has been estimated at millions, and nothing has been rehabilitated. We also cannot ever estimate the damage to our coastal environment due to the lack of river sand being deposited on our beaches to reinflate them.”

Ian Felton of DAEA has the last word: “We, together with the National DEA criminal investigators, are currently busy with a sand-mining blitz. We have executed search and seizure warrants on a number of sites in KwaZulu-Natal with more actions due to follow. The problem is, however, much larger and harder to get a handle on than we all expected, but at least we are getting somewhere with prosecuting offenders.”

• Nikki Brighton blogs about the Midlands Conservancies Forum.

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