Flood risk to cane fields has to take a back seat to nature’s needs

2015-12-23 10:21
Good rains have increased water levels and flows in the Umfolozi River. This allowed the lower basin to fill and water to flow through to the Lake St Lucia system via the beach spillway.

Good rains have increased water levels and flows in the Umfolozi River. This allowed the lower basin to fill and water to flow through to the Lake St Lucia system via the beach spillway. (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - Isimangaliso Wetland Park welcomed the postponement of the latest case in which Umfolozi Sugar Planters (known as UCOSP) and two farmers lodged an urgent application in the Durban high court to compel the park authority to artificially breach the Umfolozi River mouth.

Isimangaliso said the matter came before Judge Sharmaine Balton on Monday, but was adjourned sine die (indefinitely).

“For now the mouth will not be opened artificially to the sea,” said Terri Castis, acting CEO of Isimangaliso.

She said recent rains had brought a “torrent of water” into St Lucia estuary as the river flowed freely for the first time in months. “Breaching to the sea at this time would have meant the loss of millions of litres to Lake St Lucia. We are in the grip of a serious drought. Rainfall is the lowest it has been in 65 years,” said Castis.

She said every drop of water is precious.

Isimangaliso believes the postponement of the case is a win for the environment and the people who live around the park. The authority was concerned about the possible adverse ecological consequences of breaching and the knock-on effects on about 15 000 households whose livelihoods depend on Lake St Lucia, as well as some 6 924 tourism jobs, said Castis.

“The St Lucia system is in a fragile state and fresh water from Umfolozi is critical to the survival of species and the lake’s recovery,” she added.

Castis said about 3,2 billion litres of water have flowed into the 17 km-long estuary and the water has reached as far as Brodie’s Crossing about 15 km north of St Lucia bridge.

This week was the second time the farmers and UCOSP tried to obtain an urgent interdict against Isimangaliso.

The first application launched in August has been referred for trial in May 2016.

In October this year the farmers and UCOSP reached an interim settlement in terms of which Isimangaliso is required to breach the mouth at a point of its choosing when water levels reach a certain height.

This is to alleviate back flooding.

The rising water levels could place about 1,4% of the entire sugar crop on the floodplain at risk.

Read more on:    isimangaliso wetland park  |  court

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