Another South African dam joins the polluted list

29 August 2014

Its green but you can drink it (?).  Conditions in a well-known South African dam.

Its green but you can drink it (?). Conditions in a well-known South African dam.

A report this week has added KwaZulu Natal’s well-known Midmar Dam to the growing list of South African reservoirs that are grossly-polluted (eutrophic and hypertrophic).  Research funded by the Water Research Commission (WRC) has shown that approximately 50% of the total water stored in South African dams is eutrophic.  In most of these cases reducing the problem pollutant loads would require massive interventions

Midmar Dam is just another example of the sustained inattention to the problem of eutrophication in South Africa – a problem that is well-known and equally-well understood – for decades now.  Solutions to eutrophication are, however, far from simple, as the problem is of a complex morphology of the ‘wicked problem‘ category.  The national department of Water and Sanitation continues to ignore the warnings and to allow single-focus “attempts” at remediation to waste scarce financial resources and to cast into doubt the likelihood of any success being achieved.  The lack of skills in the field of reservoir management in South Africa is currently overwhelming – yet nothing is being done to address this.  All the while well-intentioned, yet inexperienced, stabs at fixing the problem achieve nothing of lasting value.  Monetary inputs on remediation projects exceed that spent on the South African presidents private dwelling (Nkandla) yet the public is silent on the former and exceedingly vocal on the latter.

Every eutrophication scenario is unique and is a function of a unique set of problems and perspectives.  There are no generic fixes other than the need to reduce pollutant (read nutrients in sewage effluents) loading by almost impossible amounts.  As such the concept of ‘living with eutrophication‘ becomes a reality.

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