Walking to know the river

2013-11-04 00:00

A MUCH clearer picture of the health of the Lions River has emerged following a walk along its length by two members of the Duzi-Umngeni Conservation Trust (Duct), who had also walked the Umngeni River as part of a team.

Penny Rees and Preven Chetty’s mission was to assess the water quality in the Umngeni catchment area, the surrounding land features and plants, and the general quality of the river.

The Lions River, which feeds the Umngeni River, has 96 landowners along its banks. This made it tough going for the two intrepid travellers, as they had to climb under and over many fences and boundaries.

Their walk took seven days, covering more than 80 kilometres of river frontage, and was completed in late September.

Rees said they had to complete the trip before the rains began and the river rose.

Their walk took them past Hawklee House, Lidgetton Village, Caversham Mill and Lions River, and gave them the information used to compile a report Rees will soon present at an environmental symposium.

The team found evidence of agricultural extraction from the river. Farmers were using the water for crop irrigation. This is a common practice, but dairy farmers were mixing the water with cow dung to spray their fields, a harmful mixture if it runs back into the river.

The team also found alien invasive plants along certain stretches of the river bank, sludge on the rocks and murkiness of the water in some places.

Rees said she had had positive interactions with many landowners, who were keen to find out about the river health. But she also observed that some landowners had no idea of their responsibilities.

In some places, timber trees were planted closer than the minimum 34 m to the river, in breach of Water Affairs Department recommendations.

“We are keen to develop the idea of a river stewardship programme for those landowners who own a river frontage. What they do with the river affects everyone, and they need to be aware of this. Water belongs to everyone and the water that washes down the river ends up in dams kilometres away.

“We saw some places where the water was so silted and looked so bad, it looked like chocolate pudding. Some of this was from irresponsible crop planting and effluent run-off. The crop chemicals run into the water and it affects river quality,” Rees said.

The team also conducted educational talks and did mini tests to check the health of the environment by observing what creatures are surviving in the water. Rees and Chetty also spotted bigger wild animals on their walk, including otter, water mongoose, reedbuck and duiker.

Rees said: “We saw a whole range of issues and we got a clearer picture of how the water source has been compromised through historical mismanagement and neglect. Our findings will help give people a clearer picture of what needs to be done.”

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