So what is this “trophic” stuff all about?

31 January 2012

Droplets makes frequent reference to the term “eutrophication”.  This is a term applied to waterbodies to describe the level of nutrients available.  The word stems from the Greek and means “well-fed”.  As with people (“you are what you eat”), lakes have a limit to how much food they can take before they start to become clogged up – in this case not rolls of fat but too many plants, unwanted algae, undesirable species of fish that can tolerate the mucky conditions, and so on.

Lakes progress naturally from a condition of very low nutrient enrichment (“oligotrophic”), to moderate enrichment (“mesotrophic”), and then it all becomes pear-shaped as we move into “eutrophic” and “hypertrophic”.  In South Africa, most of the dams in the most densely part of the country, Gauteng Province, are hypertrophic. Read more »

If you cannot swim in your runoff, you can do better!

31 January 2012

An excellent analogy that is deserving of a post all to itself.   This comment comes from a press article about Lake Pepin (Mississippi River, USA) and may qualify for “2o12’s comment of the year” – if there was such a thing.

For those of us who worry about the future of Lake Pepin, Bruce Tiffany poses an important question: Why, he asks, should his fellow “upriver” farmers care about the troubles of Pepin?

Tiffany grows cash crops — corn and soybeans — on a 1,700-acre farm near Redwood Falls. As a conscientious land steward, he knows that some of the rain that falls on his farm makes its way to the Minnesota River and, ultimately, to the Mississippi River and Lake Pepin.

In designing his farm, Tiffany has taken sensible steps to manage runoff. In some instances, such as the width of perennial plantings along critical buffers, he has exceeded legal obligations.

Expressing his ethos to Minnesota Public Radio, Tiffany said, “If you wouldn’t do a breast stroke in your runoff, you can do better.”

That’s a laudable sentiment. If it were more widely acted upon, Lake Pepin would not be facing such a dire future.

So why should farmers care about Pepin? Aside from an altruistic recognition of its value, they should care because their future will be linked to the lake’s future.

As the science surrounding farm pollution grows, there will be inevitable pressure on farmers to employ best practices.

While the future of Pepin is important on its own merits, its health is also an indicator of larger concerns. After all, the same farm runoff that imperils Pepin contributes to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Like Pepin, the Gulf has vocal advocates who will work the political process and demand change as a bad problem becomes worse.

Is Minister Molewa too tyred to pay attention to details…?

31 January 2012

It was probably a stupid decision of some note when South Africa combined the roles of Minister of Water Affairs and that of the Environment into a single portfolio.  Both are hugely-challenging job descriptions even for hardened specialists, yet alone for a political appointee. Water issues alone cut across multiple layers of government, as do the burgeoning issues being added to the environmental portfolio.  Either portfolio, if handled properly, is a full-on 24/7, 365 day per year, task.  I am not convinced that the incumbents are anywhere near up to the task! Read more »

Australia’s Hawkesbury River to get a pollution reprieve!

30 January 2012

From time to time I need to reiterate the purpose of Droplets:  This is a South African blog seeking to provide, by example, case studies of water quality issues around the world that are reported in the daily press.  By implication, such reporting illustrates the level of environmental education on this subject that prevails in the daily news readership of the countries from where the articles are drawn.  For example, the articles below highlight the very broad level of understanding about water pollution issues in Australia.

By contrast, water quality issues in South Africa are not reported, nor does the National Regulator for water issues seem at all concerned about the already-extreme level of water quality degradation in this country.  In this regard, Droplets intends to augment this huge information gap by showing how others “do it”.  It is hoped that one day, in the not-too-distant future, South African journalists will strive to extend this process.

Readers who troll back through Droplets posts will find both a story and a pattern of inaction that extends back, in this country, almost 30 years!  Without an informed public very little can be achieved as in the land of the blind… Read more »

Catchment problems plague world’s 10th largest lake

30 January 2012

Problems generated in catchments cause problems in all lakes.  Rectifying the problem is based, to a large extent, on making everyone who lives in the catchment understand their role or contribution to the lake’s ills, even those people who live so far away that they never see the lake.  They need to know that what goes into the storm drain outside their house or business has to end up somewhere!

Lake Winnipeg is the world’s 10th largest lake:

Lake Winnipeg, the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world, often garners a lot of attention in Manitoba as a hub for industry and recreation in this province, and as an ecological hotspot with mounting environmental issues. Read more »

Fish from Harare’s rivers and dams a cancer risk

30 January 2012

Harare River (File Photo: Bill Harding)

Zimbabwe’s The Standard reports that:

Nine people in every 1 000 in Harare are at risk of developing colon or liver cancer from eating contaminated fish harvested from Lake Chivero and other water bodies around Harare, local scientific studies have indicated. Read more »

Nutrients are pollutants: Official

28 January 2012


(With apologies to Regan)

One can only wonder about where the advisors to the South African Minister of Water & Environmental Affairs (DWAE) get their material from? Read more »

Lake Erie to benefit from closure of three coal-fired power stations

27 January 2012

A couple of days back, I blogged about the environmental risks of reliance on coal-generated energy (link).  In the US, under a court order, the Obama administration has cracked down on lung- and heart-damaging air pollution from power plants fired by coal and oil. Courts also have demanded sharp reductions in emissions of mercury and other toxic metals, and steps to curb fish kills from water withdrawals. Read more »

Wetland rehabilitation far from easy and not for the fainthearted…or ‘bankers’

27 January 2012

Wetlands are a product of their position in the landscape, and hundreds of years of development! (Photo: Bill Harding)

A recent study has reached a conclusion that wetland ecologists have known for a long time, namely that it is very difficult to re-create, restore or rehabilitate a wetland that even closely resembles what nature put there in the first place.  Wetlands are seriously multi-functional environments, their function is, in essence, derived from their complexity.  Those who think fully-functional wetlands can be rebuilt in a few years, as opposed to nature’s nurturing over hundreds, suffer from what I have long-termed ‘ego-system’, as opposed to ‘ecosystem’, management. Read more »

Indiana may continue to ignore eutrophication

27 January 2012

Wilful ignorance of the long-term dangers of allowing an excess of nutrients into the world’s rivers, waterways and lakes is a major problem, the risks about which only a few countries and states and cities have acknowledged.  Indiana does not appear to be amongst the enlightened few: Read more »