Annual Cape Peninsula Paddle called off thanks to drought

2018-05-18 13:03
(File, News24)

(File, News24)

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The annual coast-to-coast big paddle across the Cape Peninsula has become another victim of the drought.

The 27km Peninsula Paddle from False Bay to Table Bay has always been held on or as close as possible to World Environment Day on June 5. But this year, the very low water level in the city's rivers and canals, a result of the worst drought on record, has meant the event has had to be postponed for some months until after the winter rains.

Another problem is that the levels of pollution in rivers and canals are at an "all-time high", according to Kevin Winter, a senior lecturer at UCT's Environmental and Geographical Science department and the driving force behind the event.

Winter said this was the first time the Peninsula Paddle has had to be cancelled since the kayaking and canoeing event began in 2010.

The paddle is always held near World Environment Day because one of the aims is to raise awareness about Cape Town's river and canal environment, what is wrong with it and what is being done to improve it.

Read: Rivers worldwide threatened by pharma waste - studies

The paddle begins in Muizenberg at Zandvlei and follows rivers and canals across the peninsula to emerge from the Black River into the sea in Table Bay.

It takes 11 hours and there are some places where competitors have to carry their kayaks and canoes.

Winter said now, after three years of drought, the groundwater levels across most of the route were very low, which meant that the rivers and canals would be at their lowest.

"The Black River, probably one of the best river sections of the paddle, is at an all-time low, not only because of the low groundwater table but also because the volume of treated effluent, that is largely responsible for keeping this river flowing, has been reduced with water-saving measures. A strange conundrum, but there it is," Winter said.

Build-up of pollution

Another problem was that, because of the low rain levels, there had been very little stormwater flowing through the rivers and canals, which had contributed to a build-up of pollution in the city's waterways.

Some of the pollution comes from litter in the streets that is washed into rivers and canals and other pollution is from people dumping rubbish into them, from old tyres and shopping trolleys to broken buckets and old mattresses.

There may also be other unseen pollutants in the water that have built up during the drought.

Read more: The shocking truth about plastic and how it's killing us

"Observations at various points along the paddle indicate that the level of plastic pollution – and perhaps unseen and unmeasured contaminants in waterways – is at an all-time high," Winter said.

"We are going to have to delay it now until after the winter rainfall, and most likely it will be held in mid-September when the groundwater tale is slightly higher than at present."

Winter said he was determined to make the paddle work this year.

More than just a fun sporting event

"It is a must-do event to bring attention to the state of the city's waterways. If the city is to survive long-term drought-prone conditions, then it is going to have to focus on the 'city as a catchment' and manage the water that falls over the city much better in the future," Winter said.

Also read: ANALYSIS: Lack of water not a laughing matter now

Contaminated city surfaces not only compromised water quality in the aquifers, but also caused substantial deterioration in what is known as "ecosystem services" – such as the ability of the natural environment to clean water through natural filters.

Winter said contamination also affected biodiversity, and the amenity value "of Cape Town's public open spaces".

"Peninsula Paddle 2018 will definitely happen this year because it will be an important means of bringing the state of our surface water to public attention," he said.

After the 2011 event, the City launched the Kader Asmal project, employing 200 workers who cleaned the rivers and canals both of rubbish and the alien water hyacinth that has choked the Black River.

Winter said the clearing of these plants had allowed flamingos to return to the Black River, which had become a symbol of the partial recovery of the river.

Winter said earlier in a Ted Talk that, while the Peninsula Paddle was a great adventure, it was more than just a fun sporting event. It was about building partnerships across the city with various communities linked through the waterways.

"We are all connected to the waterway, rich or poor, all part of the same water body and have a responsibility for it."

It was also about drawing attention to how cities could be better designed and managed.

"What if we rethought the way our cities are designed, planned and transformed to recognise the importance of water and of water bodies on the surface and below ground? What would our cities then look like?" he said.

Read more on:    cape town  |  environment  |  water

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