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):

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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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Can an ecosystem service approach strengthen river conservation?

2 May 2014

River Ribble, Lancashire. Image RSJ

River Ribble, Lancashire. Image RSJ

Worldwide efforts to conserve river ecosystems are failing, and new approaches for stronger conservation planning are required.  This is the underlying context of a new editorial ‘Rebalancing the philosophy of river conservation’ by Mars [Managing Aquatic Ecosystems and Water Resources under Multiple Stress] scientist Steve Ormerod in Aquatic Conservation Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.  Ormerod suggests that the ecosystem service approach can offer a valuable addition to current river conservation strategies, potentially providing convincing new arguments to help halt freshwater biodiversity loss. Read more »

John Russell Harding

1 May 2014

John Russell Harding 15.2.1917 - 30.4.2014

John Russell Harding 15.2.1917 – 30.4.2014

Ghana’s true State of the Nation address (SONA)

28 February 2013

South Africans recently listened to yet another ho-hum State of (our) Nation Address (SONA) – an utterly boring and inept re-run of vague promises and intentions, all of which have been heard before, remain in limbo and did nothing to invigorate the nation.  Opposition party criticism devolved to the usual critiques, lacking in any rigorous substance but providing an opportunity to do some flag-waving.  The fact that so many of the opposition party members saw fit to dress up in fantasy ball outfits to attend the annual parliamentary opening made me shudder.

Ghana is often mentioned as the most dynamic country in Africa, rapidly eclipsing South Africa’s long-unchallened but now rapidly decaying claim to this title.  At least they have an opposition party that has the chutzpah to come out with a detailed and unemotional response to their SONA, in the form of the Ghanaian NPP’s True State of the Nation (TSONA) (see full statement). Read more »

Mining of oil sands contaminates water sources

11 January 2013

Quite a few years ago I attended an ASLO meeting in Alberta, Canada, at a time when the next big thing in oil production was the extraction of oil from tar sands in the Athabasca region.  The debate was a lot similar to that around the issue of fracking, denial on one side and lots of concern and worry about environmental impacts on the other.  However, like the current E-tolling saga in South Africa – the debate will eventually die off and the mining or tolling will simply go ahead – i.e. Big Capital wears down the opposition over time and get their way in the end. Read more »

New Jersey River = “vilest swillhole in Christendom”

14 October 2012

I think you will agree that this is not the description that you would want for a river that you live near or, if your heart is in the right place, for any river at all.  Yet, this is how the poet William C Williams described New Jersey’s Passaic River back in 1956. Read more »

US and Canada sign pact to fight eutrophication and lake pollution in the Great Lakes

9 September 2012

Not many will remember the bizarre event back in 1960 when the Cuyahoga River – which flows into Lake Erie, became so polluted that it actually caught fire.  This event catalysed a whole raft of efforts to improve the lake’s water quality – which were highly successful but not sustained, such that Erie is these days appearing again in reports about pollution.  The most recent outcome has been the signing of  a pact between Canada and the USA to work towards improving the conditions in the Great Lakes. Read more »

African environmental journalists urged to up their game

5 September 2012

Lake Victoria, source of food, water and income to millions of central and east African inhabitants, is in dire straits.  Pollution levels are increasing and the scourge of water hyacinth has again reached astronomical levels – following its near eradication a decade ago.  Journalists from the region, better than most at appreciating environmental issues, have been challenged to do more.  The challenges are considerable and there is a need to sustain efforts, not tackle the problems piecemeal. Sound familiar? Read more »

Cape Town’s reporting on algae getting better, but still needs work to be accurate

1 April 2012

The City of Cape Town recently reported on a bloom of a cylindrical, filamentous diatom in their Molteno Reservoir [Source: Water Rhapsody].  They correctly indicate that there are no known health problems associated with this benthic (bottom-dwelling) alga – which, en masse, can cause considerable problems in the flocculation systems of water treatment works.   Read more »