Proposed eutrophication management strategy

25 February 2011

Eutrophication (see elsewhere on this blog) is the commonest and most severe impact that Man exerts on the quality of our water resources. Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are the commonest symptom of this abuse. Nearly half of South Africa’s water resources are impacted by eutrophication, a problem that has been willfully ignored in this country for thirty years.

This situation, whereby we have been forced to live with the problem, needs to be changed before it degrades our social and economic future any further. It will take a long time and it will cost a lot, but it is undeniably necessary now.  We can no longer afford the luxury of spending money on studies of harmful algae or on trying to predict when problematical algal blooms will occur.  We know what causes the problem, it is time to address the cause, not the symptoms!

Adoption of the following primary ten point strategy will reverse the sustained disposal of nutrient-rich effluents to our rivers and dams.  It will take at least 15 years before meaningful improvements are evident!

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The Oestrogen Problem

23 February 2011

Raucous Toad (Photo: Bill Harding)

Readers of this blog will have noted the concern regarding the possible oestrogenic behaviour of blue-green algae, an algal group common in many South African dams.  Water Online reports that:

Sterility In Frogs Caused By Pharmaceutical Progestogens

February 17, 2011

Frogs appear to be very sensitive to progestogens, a kind of pharmaceutical that is released into the environment. Female tadpoles that swim in water containing a specific progestogen, levonorgestrel, are subject to abnormal ovarian and oviduct development, resulting in adult sterility. This is shown by a new study conducted at Uppsala University and published recently in the scientific journal Aquatic Toxicology.

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CyanoAlert: Fixing eutrophication long and costly…

21 February 2011

Everyone, not least the water regulator, needs to realize that fixing our burgeoning eutrophication problem is going to take many, many years – and the longer we leave off getting started, the longer it will take before we see benefits.  The cleanup coordinator for Lake Champlain, Julie Moore, recently made this point as she moved on to new pastures.  She summed up “So just doing the math, it’s a 50-year plan. And frankly, it will take longer,” she said. “We’ve been picking the low-hanging fruit in our (clean-up) work. Solutions are going to get more technically challenging and expensive.”  South Africa has been dodging the expensive option, in vain search for a silver bullet, for decades – and continues to do so.  At the same time, climate change will result in a higher frequency of toxic algal blooms, with the duration of such blooms becoming increasingly sustained.  The effect of these changes on human and animal health are expected with 30 years.

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14 February 2011

All in all a quiet week.  Perhaps the most interesting and potentially very worrying are concerns raised in German dailies (see also and also) regarding risks to health from cyanobacterial preparations, such as those made from cultures of Spirulina and Aphanizomenon.  For some time there have been muttered concerns about the advisability of these supplements and, oddly, there have been no comments from the scientific community.  Personally, I am not sure how these preparations made it through FDA and similar approvals.  I know people who became very ill indeed after short periods of taking them.  However, one manufacturer claims that in Germany, physicians are using algae to treat children with ADHD instead of the traditional Ritalin!

The second important issue is the announcement that the microcystin toxins produced by cyanobacteria may well be estrogenic – i.e. compounding the pharmaceutical EDC problem our surface waters already face.  This implies that the feminization problems we are seeing may have more to do with nutrient enrichment than we thought – but long expected!

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Why do we bother?

8 February 2011

On the one hand we see more and more lakes becoming economic deadweights and health risks, such as Lake Bolac, Victoria, Australia, while, on the other, we have politicians and lawmakers overruling water quality standards necessary to prevent the problem!  – on the grounds that the standards are too onerous for the industries that cause the pollution in the first place!  Sounds familiar though – in South Africa we live in a country where water pollution has been aided and abetted by years of exemptions alleviating the need to treat effluent properly!

Money talks and makes an oxymoron out of sustainable development!

Are we headed this way?

7 February 2011

I believe that the measure of maturity of a nation is reflected in the level of compassion that its citizens show for each other.  Based on the daily reports in the newspapers (greed, corruption, crime, wilful ignorance, wilful denial) South Africa appears to be on the wrong end of the maturity scale.

The behaviour of roadusers perhaps reflects this.  Last week I was trapped in the bumper to bumper afternoon traffic out of Cape Town, on the strip towards the R300 offramp.  No-one could do more than creep along.  Then, in the yellow shoulder, comes a small, white Corsa-type car, four males inside, at high speed, past everybody.  Alongside us a pedestrian just managed to twist out of the way.  Then, a few hundred meters further on, came the unpleasant sight of a man on a bicycle being hurled high into the air.  When we passed the scene the occupants, in a now substantially-damaged vehicle, were getting out, some with drinks in hand.

Ubuntu – what is that exactly?


5 February 2011

Sunset on the Orange River

The authorities at Yarrow Bay (Lake Washington, USA) have declared that here will be “no net increase” of phosphorus runoff into the lake from the two developments it is planning in Black Diamond, The Villages and Lawson Hills, i.e. the pre-development condition will be maintained so that the effect of extant loadings will not get worse. At Hayden Lake (Idaho), an ecologically-important piece of land above the lake has been purchased to prevent it from being developed.

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Why do we have a Water Crisis ?

3 February 2011

Calf affected by cyanotoxins

South Africa has a Water (Quality) Crisis for the following reasons (not in any particular order):

1. Thirty-five percent (35%) of  our dams exceed acceptable limits of nutrient enrichment, creating a situation in which potentially-toxic algal blooms occur with increasing frequency.  The National Water Resource Strategy (NWRS 2004) lists a higher figure, forty-two percent (42%).  Most of these dams are in Gauteng.

2. The main source of the nutrient enrichment is from phosphorus contained in wastewater (sewage effluents), as well as contributions from urban runoff, agriculture and industry.

3. Stripping of phosphorus from wastewater to ecologically-acceptable levels is not yet practiced in South Africa.

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1 February 2011

A somewhat pointless article appears today in what appears to be a local government newsletter entitled “Service” – a tad ironic as ‘service’ seems to be what’s missing from local government, unless you live in the Western Cape.  The article I refer to is entitled “Freshwater A Global Crisis” and creates the impression, perhaps not intentionally, that we need not worry about our problems because they are cosmopolitan (!).  This type of argument, in a generally poorly-informed society, can be very damaging as it can be clutched at by the naysayers.  The article goes on to list various internet-sourced factoids about the global water situation.

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