Water quality is a problem in South Africa: has the penny finally dropped… ?

30 July 2015

Wastewater effluents destroy rivers and lakes (Photo: Bill Harding)

Wastewater (sewage) effluents are the major threat to South African reservoirs (Photo: Bill Harding)

A pleasing development this week has been the long-overdue acknowledgement that water quality is the ‘elephant in the room’, insofar as the optimal future use of South African water resources is concerned (see article here).  Of course this is not a new discovery – the lack of attention to water quality issues has been bemoaned for a very long time (a simple search of this blog will reveal many related articles and cautions over the past five years) – yet the warnings have been ignored or now seemingly considered to have been part of a ‘debate’.  On the debate issue, however, no formal collegiate interactions have been initiated, other than a very short-lived one-day attempt by the Water Research Commission a couple of years ago.  Some who may consider the ‘debate’ to now be over, have themselves been instrumental in denying the existence of a water quality problem for a long time.

So, if the attitude is now changing, this is very good news – especially that the responsible national department is now apparently moving towards developing an Integrated Water Quality Management initiative – lets hope they don’t waste any more time reinventing wheels.  While fingers are being pointed at a ‘piecemeal’ approach to the problem by the Dept of Water and Sanitation, one can only ask why their consultant advisors did not alert them to the dangers of ignoring water quality issues for so long?

FACT: With inadequate quantities of freshwater, development in South Africa will be severely constrained. If the quality of these limited supplies is also compromised, prospects for sustainable development effectively disappear.  These simple truths have been clear and evident in South Africa for several decades.

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Misrepresentation of N3 De Beers Pass route wetland specialist findings

13 July 2015

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The De Beers Pass route is essentially untransformed and characterized by pastoral tranquillity and seclusion…

During 2013 we (DH Environmental Consulting, DHEC) undertook a significant body of work assessing numerous wetlands along the route of the proposed De Beers Pass N3 Toll Road (DBPR) between Warden and Keeversfontein.  Our final report, detailing our assessment of the impacts that would be incurred by the new road, was submitted in October 2013. We have not received any feedback thereon since that time.

We have recently learnt, via reviews of our and other specialist environmental impact assessment work conducted for the proposed new road, that our findings were not carried over into the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) or for the Draft Integrated Water Use Licence application (DIWULA) (these reviews may be found here).  One of the reviews concludes as follows:

The Draft EIA Report does not adequately reflect the findings of specialist studies. There have been material omissions and in general specialist findings have been watered down, with the exception of those relating to economic impacts. This is particularly true of those studies which show significant adverse impacts – these have been summarised to the extent that their significance is under-stated and preferred mitigation measures involving avoidance of impacts discarded. Accordingly, the obligation to conduct work in an objective manner as required in terms of regulation 18(c) of the 2006 NEMA EIA Regulations has not been achieved. Economic benefits, which are beneficial to the application have been fully stated (e.g. Chapter 11 of the Draft EIA Report) whereas the same cannot be said for significant adverse impacts as is demonstrated by some examples in Table 2 in this review.

DH Environmental was not provided with a copy of the DEIR or the DIWULA.  Had we been, we would have strongly contested the manner in which our findings were not carried over into these documents.

We are also extremely concerned to learn that, at public meetings, which we were not invited to attend or present our work at, the impression was allegedly created that all of the project specialists concurred with the content of the presentations being made by the Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP).  Furthermore that, inter alia,  the presentation of findings by a colleague wetland specialist were prevented from being shown at the public meetings (see report found here). Other alleged client intervention in the process is also documented.  We also find, from one of the reviews, that the opinion of the client – to wit casting doubt on the specialist findings – were included in the EIR.  This is wholly inappropriate and suggests a new low for EIAs.

A summary of our findings, which indicate the proposed route to be ill-advised, are provided below.  We strongly recommend that oversight by specialists become a mandatory component of the EIA and associated licensing processes – this to ensure that their findings have been correctly interpreted and included.  We can only wonder as to how many other EIAs have followed this practice and got away with it.

In our opinion, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the EIA process for the DBPR is sufficiently flawed for it to be set aside as being materially deficient.  We hereby disassociate ourselves with the process that appears to have been followed in deriving the DEIR and the DIWULA.

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Just a dog…

11 July 2015

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From time to time people tell me, “Lighten up, it’s just a dog,” or “That’s a lot of money for just a dog.”

They don’t understand the distance traveled, time spent, or costs involved for “Just a dog.” Some of my proudest moments have come about with “Just a dog.” Many hours have passed with my only company being “Just a dog,” and not once have I felt slighted. Some of my saddest moments were brought about by “Just a dog.” In those days of darkness, the gentle touch of “Just a dog” provided comfort and purpose to overcome the day.

If you, too, think it’s “Just a dog,” you will probably understand phrases like “just a friend,” “just a sunrise,” or “just a promise.” “Just a dog” brings into my life the very essence of friendship, trust, and pure unbridled joy. “Just a dog” brings out the compassion and patience that makes me a better person. Because of “Just a dog” I will rise early, take long walks and look longingly to the future.

For me and folks like me, it’s not “Just a dog.” It’s an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment. “Just a dog”brings out what’s good in me and diverts my thoughts away from myself and the worries of the day.

I hope that someday people can understand it’s not “Just the dog.” It’s the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being “Just a man” or “Just a woman.”

So the next time you hear the phrase “Just a dog,” smile, because they “just don’t understand.”

-Author Unknown

The Prague Statement on A Need for Action to Develop Water Resources Management Systems

1 July 2015

The Prague Statement
on
A Need for Action to Develop Water Resources Management Systems by the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS)

 26 June 2015

Recognising the human right on access to safe water and protection from water hazards of every individual as enshrined in international law,

Noting with satisfaction the current and past efforts made by governments, agencies and community groups to provide access to safe water, to protect the environment and to mitigate water hazards,

Acknowledging that there is a global water crisis with critical needs for immediate action,

We, the delegates to the conference of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences in Prague, June 20-26, 2015 are deeply concerned by the water problems humanity is experiencing with increasing frequency and severity and express the following concerns and recommendations.

The hydrosphere is experiencing a global water crisis caused by uneven freshwater availability in space and time, overexploitation, environmental degradation and the more frequent occurrence of floods and droughts. In fact, 842,000 people die annually from inadequate water supply and the annual economical damage induced by floods is nearly 14 billion US dollars (average 1980-2014). This crisis is fuelled by often fragmented water management and by economic problems, especially in water-scarce regions. Low efficiency of water resources management systems, in terms of high water losses and energy consumption, is no longer sustainable and may cause irreversible damage to our societies if not promptly mitigated. At the same time water demand is ever increasing in many parts of the world, due to population growth, economic development and changing lifestyles, exacerbating the risk of unsafe water supply.

Devastating floods around the world belong to the largest disasters in terms of economic loss and financial damage. These floods are expected to increase further as a result of land use change (such as the intensification of agricultural management and surface sealing due to urbanisation), modifications of the river system (such as river training and harnessing) and more intense precipitation extremes related to climate change. More importantly, the number of people and the economic value of assets in flood prone areas have increased throughout the world, as a result of urbanisation and encroachment of floodplains, exposing an increasing number of people to floods. These factors all contribute to increased flood risk to both humans and their economic goods.

Water resources management systems are the artefacts put in place to make freshwater available to people and to protect them from water threats. Their correct functioning is essential for people’s wellbeing. Immediate action is therefore needed to evolve water resources management systems in order to address the present challenges of the global water crisis.

A call for immediate actions of governments

We call upon all local, regional and national governments and urge them to develop effective solutions to the water crisis by developing water resources management systems:

  • In order to address problems of freshwater availability and supply, the full spectrum of technical, organisational, economic, political, legal and social approaches should be considered, and implemented as needed.
  • In order to address flood risks, a holistic approach of integrated flood risk management should be adopted that considers all phases of the disaster cycle – mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.
  • In all instances, a sustainable approach should be adopted ensuring that long-term issues are addressed. A comprehensive monitoring of the status of water resources is therefore needed to be able to adapt to changes in a flexible and ecologically sustainable way.
  • Instruments of managing water resources management systems should be tailored to the local hydrological, legal and societal situations to adapt to the dramatic global changes in the environment and society.
  • Cooperation of all stakeholders is needed based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels, in particular at the river basin scale.
  • Water resources management systems are a cultural heritage of humanity, yet the infrastructure to manage them efficiently and effectively is ageing and the requirements are changing. A balanced approach of preservation and adaptation is needed to meet the needs of a changing world.
  • The evolution of water resources management systems requires a sound scientific basis. Advice from the scientific community should therefore play an essential role in planning their future configuration and management.A call for immediate actions of the international scientific communityWe also call upon members of the international scientific community and urge them to develop practical and implementable methods and techniques to support adaptation of water resources management systems to the current and future challenges.
  • Adaptation of water resources management systems should build on observed evidence and rigorous system understanding. An improved understanding of hydrological processes is therefore needed, in particular at the local scale, and put into the context of broader river basin and groundwater issues.
  • An interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach is required to understand the multiple triggers of the water emergencies, and elaborate visions and solutions that are viable technically, environmentally and socially.
  • Assessment of the water future and management options is often carried out through scenario analyses. While useful for a set of questions, they do not usually account for dynamic feedbacks. Novel methods of socio-hydrology are needed that represent the long term feedbacks between hydrology and society in an explicit way.
  • The value of monitoring of water resources cannot be overestimated, particularly during times of change. Novel, efficient and accurate monitoring systems are needed in support of research and management practice.
  • Approaches to adaptive management are needed that identify priority targets and lead to feasible solutions. Given the multiple uncertainties, robust vulnerability-based approaches should be particularly developed that are people-centred and aim at reducing their vulnerability and enhancing their resilience, and give favourable outcomes under a broad spectrum of possible futures.A call for immediate actions of research funding agenciesFinally, we call upon the research funding agencies at both national and international levels and urge them to provide funding that is commensurate with the challenges of the global water crisis.
    • Enhanced funding is needed to improve the understanding of hydrological processes at all scales. Fundamental research is equally important as applied research, and is equally likely to become societally relevant, albeit over longer time scales.
    • Funding is needed to address the big questions of the water future through both small and large research groups. Interdisciplinary research within projects and across projects is essential to make

progress in understanding and developing environmentally sustainable water resources management systems.

  • Given the paramount role of adaptive management, long term funding is essential, in particular for Hydrological Observatories that unravel the long term feedbacks between water-related processes.
  • Networking between scientists around the world is already receiving substantial funding. Mobility and international collaboration should continue to be funded at a high level.
  • The support of young water scientists through structured doctoral programmes and other initiatives should be strengthened. The young generation will be the managers of the water resources management systems of the future, so investing in their education will pay back multiple times.Adopted by acclamation, in the city of Prague, Czech Republic, on this 26th day of June 2015.