Wetlands under stress

2018-07-17 06:01

I write in response to the lengthy “assurances” of Brett Herron (“Wetlands secure”, People’s Post, 26 June) regarding the preservation of the Noordhoek wetlands. In his defence of the City of Cape Town’s plans to (figuratively and literally) bulldoze Houmoed Road extension through a wetland which forms the keystone to the integrity of the entire downstream wetland system at Lake Michelle and the greater Noordhoek Wetlands, Herron claims the City has a good record of preservation of wetlands and environmental spaces.

I beg to differ. The very wetland that this proposed road extension will impact was set upon in 2017 by contractors employed and directed by the City, illegally and without any prior impact assessment or planning permission. This ill-devised scheme to address the illegal and unsanitary condition of Masiphumelele’s wetland residents created canals through the heart of this wetland.

When residents became aware of this illegal activity the City resorted to further illegal action, exacerbating the damage by backfilling the illegal canals, further compromising ecosystem functionality­.

A proper planning process ought to have been engaged in how to deal with what are effectively open sewers in lower Masipumilele. These should be diverted to the adjacent Wildevoelvlei Water Treatment Works, through weirs and pump stations. To date this decades old problem remains unaddressed, indicating a failure of vision, governance and leadership by the City.

Rather than providing false narratives about how the City proposes to have the entire metropole declared a Ramsar site (an absurd notion, impossible under the Ramsar convention), Herron should focus on his employer’s serial failure to take due care of wetlands in the valley. These wetlands play a huge, hidden role in cleansing the region’s pollution, for free, every day of every year at a conservative economic value of more than R9m per annum. Over the 30 years I have been involved in attempting to preserve the integrity of this ecosystem the City has done little beside place pressure upon pressure upon this already stressed system.

For instance, despite my warning that extension of the Wildevoelvlei Water Treatment Works could tip Wildevoelvlei (a seasonal pan and estuary) into ecosystem collapse in the late 1990s, the City proceeded with this project.

These vleis subsequently became seasonally toxic to all aquatic life; pets and humans cannot come into contact with the water. This toxic soup flows directly onto Noordhoek beach, sterilising the once fecund prawn beds. These ecosystems will never recover under the present regime.

The City has also allowed extension of Lake Michelle, which now hovers on the edge of a similar collapse to Wildevoelvlei­.

Neither has the City taken any meaningful steps to prevent the ongoing degradation of the fringes of these wetlands over the last three decades, with extensive developments, many illegal, impinging and encroaching, without any concomitant action from the city or designated national bodies.

I therefore suggest that the claims made by Herron regarding the role of the City in managing our wetlands and environment fail to stack up.

Recent events illustrate the extent to which the City has proven to be a poor environmental steward of this area. To further suggest Houmoed Road will solve our local traffic problems rings as hollow as his assurances that the city is a good custodian of our wetland ecosystems­.

Glenn Ashton Noordhoek

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