Lots of apparent irregularities around the Elandsfontein phosphate mine?

13 October 2015

Elandsfontein looking west towards the lagoon (Carika van Zyl)

Elandsfontein, looking west towards the lagoon (Carika van Zyl)

The goings-on around the approval of mining rights for the proposed phosphate mine on the South African west coast at Elandsfontein (in the buffer zone of the West Coast National Park no less!), seem a tad murky.  There seem to be a slew of procedural anomalies and some of the specialist work, for a project that could, potentially, have ecological implications that extend into the marine environment, appears somewhat superficial – with concerns raised on review.  Political interference in favour of the mining has been alleged.  Legal opinion shows that the mining company may have been ill-advised in terms of their procedural obligations to seek approval under NEMA.  Anyway, readers need to draw their own conclusions from the following letter prepared by the stalwart conservationist heading up the opposition to the mine, Carika van Zyl.  Last week she circulated this letter with associated documents (published here with her permission):

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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.

 

 

Endgame for glyphosate? The global fallout of WHO’s ‘probable carcinogen’ classification

12 June 2015

(Republished per permission of the Institute for Science in Society)

Could it be that the World Health Organisation’s classification of glyphosate as a ‘probable carcinogen’ (see [1] Glyphosate ‘Probably Carcinogenic to Humans’ Latest WHO AssessmentSiS 66) will be the final nail in the coffin for the world’s most popular herbicide and Monsanto’s flagship product.

Recent weeks have seen the intensification of campaigns to ban or remove the product as well as lawsuits being filed against Monsanto; in the US for false safety claims of glyphosate, and in China, for hiding toxicity studies from the public.

El Salvador has already banned the chemical though yet to be signed into law [2], while the Netherlands last year banned private sales [3]. Sri Lanka had a partial ban in place in regions most afflicted by chronic kidney disease that has been linked to glyphosate use (see later).

People have known the truth for years. Industry and government regulators have conspired to bury copious evidence of toxicity for decades, and they feel to some extent vindicated by the latest WHO assessment (see [4] Glyphosate and CancerSiS 62) and [5] EU Regulators and Monsanto Exposed for Hiding Glyphosate ToxicitySiS 51). More importantly, governments are finally beginning to take action. Read more »

CLARIFICATION REGARDING DH ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTING’S ASSOCIATION WITH THE SITARI COUNTRY ESTATE DEVELOPMENT (KLEIN ZEEKOEVLEI WETLAND)

31 May 2015

Between 2009 and 2014 DH Environmental Consulting (DHEC) undertook a series of aquatic environment assessments and investigations for the proposed Sitari Country Estate development, north of Macassar, Cape Town.

This work culminated in the preparation of a concept design for the re-creation of the Klein Zeekoevlei wetland (a copy of the report may be found here).

On 10 December 2014, a blogpost regarding the wetland appeared on the Sitari website, in which was stated that Bill Harding of DHEC would be “overseeing the remediation of the wetland at Sitari Country Estate”. A full copy of the post may be found here.   The same article also appeared in SA Property News on 20 January 2015.

Bill was the wetland specialist for the highly successful Century City (Intaka Island), Capricorn Business Park, Silvermine River Flood Management Scheme and Paardevlei wetlands.

The Sitari post of 10 December 2014 was placed without our prior knowledge or consent. We condoned it, however (see our Twitterpost of 13 December 2014), on the basis of prior written indications from the developer that we would undertake the work. On 19 December 2014 an email from the developer’s agent indicated that a meeting to discuss going forward would take place early in 2015. Neither this meeting, nor any contact from the developer, transpired.

It has recently (28 May 2015) come to DHEC’s knowledge that the wetland re-creation work has since been contracted to someone else.

Accordingly we have objected to the continued, unsolicited and misleading use of Bill Harding’s name and association on their website and requested that it be removed with immediate effect.

Furthermore, we wish to place on record that we have not been involved in any of the phases that are required to take the concept ideas into a working design, inclusive of the hydrological and water quality (stormwater treatment) models.

 

 

The State of Nature in the EU: an unfavourable picture for freshwaters

26 May 2015

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Avon Meadows Community Wetlands in Worcestershire, England have been created on the rural-urban fringe to encourage biodiversity, reduce flooding and improve water quality on the nearby River Avon. Image: Geoff Moore | Flickr | Creative Commons

Last week the European Environment Agency released their ‘State of Nature in the EU‘ report, which uses comprehensive data collected across the continent between 2008-2012 assess the status of and trends in biodiversity and natural habitats across Europe.  Data on Europe’s species and habitats was collected by individual countries (or member states) as part of monitoring for the Birds Directive and the Habitat Directive – European environmental policies designed to help guide conservation, protected area management and environmental restoration across the continent (more information on these at the bottom of the post).

Hans Bruyninckx, the Executive Director of the European Environment Agency said“This unique assessment is a first of its kind, building on extensive observation networks of experts and citizens alike. Despite some information gaps, it provides the most complete picture of Europe’s biodiversity to date.  The results are mixed but clear. When implemented well, conservation measures work and improve the status of habitats and species on the ground. Such improvements remain limited and patchy, and unfortunately Europe’s biodiversity is still being eroded overall and the pressures continue”

The results of the study for freshwaters are largely unfavourable.  Around half of the conservation status of river and lake habitats and species reported to the Habitats Directive are deemed ‘unfavourable-inadequate‘.  It is worth noting that the habitats and species assessed by the Habitats Directive were already deemed rare, endangered or otherwise threatened.  However, the picture is still not positive: around a third of these conservation statuses are in decline, suggesting that a significant proportion of Europe’s freshwater species and habitats face significant threats to their health and diversity.

Rivers and lakes were found to be most impacted by modifications to natural conditions (for example: river channel modification and fragmentation, water abstraction, draining of wetlands), water pollution and the impact of agriculture (e.g. fertiliser run-off).  Changes to natural conditions were particularly damaging pressures for birds which live in freshwater habitats, presumably due to a reduction in available nesting and feeding sites.

Protected area designation was reported as the most popular conservation measure implemented by member states to mitigate the identified threats for both birds and wider habitats.  For non-bird species – largely fish, invertebrates and amphibians – conservation measures were more diverse, including restoring hydrological regimes, legally protecting habitats and species, and improving water quality.

MARS project leader Daniel Hering commented on the findings, suggesting that whilst water quality in Europe is improving, any widespread improvements in freshwater biodiversity and habitat quality lag well behind:

“The negative assessment of river and lake conservation status is in line with the results of the Water Framework Directive monitoring. Both the assessment under the Habitats Directive and under the Water Framework Directive rate the status of lakes and rivers quite negatively.

The results are consistent but also quite surprising for many people who acknowledge the great improvement of water quality in recent decades. Strong pollution has vanished from European rivers and lakes – but biodiversity and ecosystem functions are still impoverished.

Freshwater ecosystems in most parts of Europe are still stressed, but the stressors are less visible than in former times. Eutrophication, pesticides, removal of riparian vegetation, water abstraction – all these stressors affect a large proportion of Europe’s waters. In former times the wastewater from households and industries were the main threat; nowadays, it is the way we practise agriculture.”

Read the State of Nature in the EU Report online

The Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive

The Birds Directive was set up in 1979, and aims to protect all wild birds with natural ranges inside Europe, and identifies 193 species which are in need of special conservation measures due variously to rarity, threat of extinction or loss of habitat.  The Birds Directive also requires European member states to designate Special Protection Areas for the conservation of endangered bird species.

The Habitats Directive was set up in 1992 with the aim of ensuring the conservation of rare, threatened or endemic species of plants and animals across Europe.  The Directive covers over 1,250 species and 233 habitat types across the continent, and requires member states to designate and manage Special Areas of Conservation and implement other management measures to restrict the taking, capturing or killing of important plant and animal species.

Re-posted with the kind permission of thefreshwaterblog

Nutrient pollution can harm stream ecosystems in previously unknown ways

23 April 2015

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A North Carolina forest stream. Image: Jenn Deane | Flickr Creative Commons

It has long been known that nutrient pollution – the overloading of chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphates from sources such as agricultural fertilisers – can have potentially harmful effects on freshwater ecosystems.  In particular, eutrophication – the rapid growth of algal ‘blooms’ – can starve the aquatic environment of light and dissolved oxygen, prompting shifts in the form and function of the ecosystem, and potentially causing collapses in populations of other freshwater plants and animals. Read more »

The Lourens River – an unprotected natural environment?

10 April 2015

The Lourens River, or rather the condition thereof, is in the news again.  Quite a long time ago now this watercourse was heralded as the first to be proclaimed a Protected Natural Environment (PNE) – and that was pretty much that.  Its pretty hard to tell what it is protected from, other than perhaps efforts to protect it!

The middle reaches of the Lourens in Somerset West.  Protected Natural Environment ? not really protected and far from natural any more.

The middle reaches of the Lourens in Somerset West. Protected Natural Environment ? Not really protected and far from natural any more.

 

A dog is not a ‘thing’

10 April 2015

“A dog is not a thing. A thing is replaceable. A dog is not. A thing is disposable. A dog is not. A thing doesn’t have a heart. A dog’s heart is bigger than any “thing” you can ever own.”
― Elizabeth ParkerPaw Prints in the Sand

Regrettably, South African law considers animals as property, i.e. things, not sentient beings.  While this is fundamentally and morally objectionable, it is a fact and something that is unlikely to change any time soon.  Humans have a lot to answer for.

Dogs, for a reason that can only be described as divine, have the ability to forgive, let go of the past, and live each day joyously. It’s something the rest of us strive for.”
― Jennifer SkiffThe Divinity of Dogs: True Stories of Miracles Inspired by Man’s Best Friend

Abandoned in Greyton a week ago!

Abandoned in Greyton a week ago and no-one has enquired about him!