Mini water wars: People who make decisions are often not the ones affected by water quality problems

19 January 2014

This arch on the wall of Hartbeespoort Dam admonishes Sine aqua arida ac misera agri cultura (Without water agriculture is withered and wretched). People as well! (Photo: Bill Harding)

This arch on the wall of Hartbeespoort Dam admonishes Sine aqua arida ac misera agri cultura (Without water agriculture is withered and wretched). People as well! (Photo: Bill Harding)

Many have speculated that future conflicts will be fought over water availability – for example as argued by Marq de Villiers in his book aptly titled “Water Wars: Is the World’s Water Running Out?” (Phoenix Press 1999).  Similar arguments are evident in Sandra Postel’s “Pillar of Sand: Can the Irrigation Miracle Last” (WorldWatch, 1999) or in Patrick Bond’s “Unsustainable South Africa: Environment, Development and Social Protest” (Merlin, 2002).  In the latter Bond correctly notes that “Water management offers [the] South African government and society possibly the most serious contemporary challenge“.  In 1997 the UN Comprehensive Assessment of Freshwater Resources concluded that “The world faces a worsening series of local and regional water quantity and quality [my emphasis] problems.  Water resource constraints and water degradation are weakening one of the resources bases  on which human society is built“.  All of these texts were published more than a decade ago, and similar postulates pre-date them.

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Sanity Prevails: Hartbeespoort Dam programme canned

31 March 2013

Diorama of Hartbeespoort Dam at the upper cableway station (Photo: Bill Harding)

Diorama of Hartbeespoort Dam at the upper cableway station, seen from the south (Photo: Bill Harding)

The decision by South Africa’s Department of Water Affairs to terminate the Metsiame project at Hartbeespoort Dam is long overdue but to be welcomed nonetheless.  Regrettably, this only comes after many millions of rands and years of valuable time have been wasted – money that could have been infinitely better spent on this and other impaired South African dams.  The mere fact that the work was allowed to continue in the face of conflicting scientific evidence was cause for concern and highlighted the lack of appropriate project oversight. Read more »

Conditions in Hartbeespoort Dam now three times worse than in 2005

13 November 2012

Come on in, the water’s lovely !

The infamous Hartbeespoort Dam is associated with high levels of eutrophication and algal blooms.  The source of the problem is the nutrients contained in wastewater effluents channelled down the Crocodile River to the dam.  Of these, phosphorus is the most manageable element and the one typically used to define the level of eutrophication in a waterbody.

The target concentration of phosphorus, i.e. the level at which, all other things being equal, algal blooms would be minimized, for dams such as Harties is 55 microgrammes per liter (yes, fifty-five).  Between the years 2000 and 2005, the average annual concentration of P in the dam was around 130 microgrammes per liter, or just in excess of double the target value, lowest in 2005 at just on 100 microgrammes per liter. Read more »

Two years on, answers still sought about Hartbeespoort Dam ‘fix-up’ project

30 October 2012

For some years now, Hartbeespoort Dam has been the focus of the so-called Metsiame Project, an endeavour that has spent millions on apparently trying to implement a remediation plan for this long-suffering reservoir.  Despite all the money that has been pumped into this project, no results have been forthcoming – this despite claims made in self-promoting articles in soft-science or engineering journals.  Given the flagship nature of the project, quite a few peer-reviewed articles should have emerged by now. Read more »

DWA believes its own spin…(damn bounded rationality!)

15 July 2011

Photo: Bill Harding

A rare report from South Africa:  The Department of Water Affairs has announced that the Metsiame project at Hartbeespoort Dam is improving the water quality.  This is very hard to believe as, in the five odd years that this project has been running, not one single shred of scientifically-derived evidence to support such an assertion has emerged, this despite the millions of rands that have been ploughed in.  In a world-first, the Metsiame project is the only such large-scale effort that has no peer review, no transparent data reporting or anything similar.  If the water quality has improved, it is likely to be as a consequence of last year’s removal of phosphorus from South African laundry detergents, a move that would have reduced the P-loading to Hartbeespoort Dam by around 25%.  I wonder what has become of the Minister’s undertaking to have the project audited? Read more »

Whistleblowing the Hartbeespoort Dam project

27 May 2011

Sunset over Hartbeespoort Dam (Photo: Bill Harding)

Last year, Garry Mackay, former Chairperson of the Hartbeespoort Dam Water Action Group (HWAG), sent a detailed letter (link here) to the Minister of Water Affairs, drawing attention to a slew of problems with the management and running of the Hartbeespoort Dam Remediation Project.  Garry has spent a good portion of his life acting for and on behalf of Harties and has a long-standing interest in seeing the water quality problems alleviated.  For him to blow the whistle on the project indicated that something was seriously wrong. Read more »


26 January 2011

The Democratic Alliance has issued a “to-do” list for our new Minister of Water Affairs. Insofar as protecting our dams is concerned, the list includes doing something about the massive level of pollution caused by ineffective wastewater treatment works and the need to manage the ecological integrity of our dams correctly.  The list also calls for an investigation into what is being done and how money is being spent on the so-called “rehabilitation of Hartbeespoort Dam”.  This is long overdue!

Elsewhere in this blog is a discussion on the problems associated with removing phosphates from dishwasher detergents.  One of the world giants in the detergent industry, Procter and Gamble, have announced that they are reformulating their P-free product.

In Australia, authorties have warned that the levels of toxic algae in Lake Eildon, while in New Zealand the warning for Lake Forsyth/Waiwera has been lifted.

In the USA, the EPA has retracted its approval of the TMDL for Lake Champlain and has announced it will assist with reformulating this directive.