Drought impacts wetland park
On 2 November the St Lucia estuary at the Narrows section drained of virtually all of its water in g...
A sand mining company, that has mining rights along the Umvoti River, has helped to clear some of the illegal dams that restricted water flow to the Umvoti Water Treatment Plant. Pictured is one of its dump trucks that was tipping sand on to a temporary dam wall created to contain the water. Photo Credit: Independent Media
Durban – Residents were horrified to learn, at a town meeting hosted by the Concerned Citizens Movement last Thursday, that some illegal dams – caused by river sand mining – contained as much as 200 million litres of water while the rest of the river was reduced to “a thin stream”.
There was barely any water flowing to the abstraction point at the Umvoti Water Treatment Plant that supplies water to KwaDukuza and Blythedale. This resulted in water restrictions and water tanks being deployed to the affected areas. But residents complained these tanks never kept to the scheduled timetable.
After their own investigation into the poor water flow to the plant, which reduced the production of drinking water from an average of 18 million litres of water to four million daily, this group of businessmen discovered these illegal dams.
One of the businessmen, Amarasen Moodley, said they then approached the iLembe District Municipality with a proposal that they would use their own equipment to remove these dams if the municipality helped with R35 000 to cover their costs for transporting and fuelling their equipment.
Moodley said the municipality declined due to lack of funds. They decided to go ahead, using their own money.
“We wanted, of our own accord, to sort out this problem because it was our right to do so,” he said.
“The town had no water for 32 days and it took us three days to get it flowing again. It was something that had to be done. If we didn’t step in, I don’t think we’d have water now.”
However, the municipality seemed to downplay the businessmen’s role, saying the municipality had detected the illegal dams, created through sand mining, “a while ago”.
Municipal official, Elias Bhengu, said these businessmen were Good Samaritans who had volunteered to assist them to fast track the clearing of these dams with no talk of compensation.
He said the municipality had been constantly engaging with the Departments of Water and Sanitation and Minerals and Energy on the sand mining issue with “very little results”. The Department of Minerals issues the sand mining permits.
Bhengu said two blitz operations in the past two years resulted in these illegal dams being removed. The municipality has six pending cases before the KwaDukuza Magistrate’s Court against six sand mining companies.
The Concerned Citizens Movement firmly believes sand mining was the cause of the town’s water problem and argued that the municipality should have had the foresight to put plans in place to prevent it.
Roy Naicker, the movement’s chairman, said the iLembe District Municipality and its local municipalities were declared a drought disaster in December 2014 and water restrictions were imposed.
“By mid October, the Umvoti River had dried out and stopped running. The municipality put out a timetable for water tankers to be deployed.
“As the month went along we ran out of water. These water tankers would come at erratic times of the day and night and people started asking what was going on,” he explained.
He referred to the district municipality’s drought intervention presentation which said water tankering was costing it about R5.5 million a month. The municipality deployed five of its water tankers to KwaDukuza and had hired 10 more for the area.
The Department of Water and Sanitation had allocated R37m to the municipality and the National Disaster Management Centre had allocated R9.25m for short-term intervention to the district.
“They were willing to spend so much on the water tankers, buying water from other water works, but did not have R35 000 to help these businessmen clear the blockages on the river,” Naicker said.
Members of the movement and Moodley took the Daily News on an inspection this week along parts of the Umvoti River.
Vice-chairman Vis Pillay said the main problem of sand mining did not arise overnight. “It’s just when the water levels dropped that these illegal, dug out, dams became evident,” he said.
On a drive, literally on what was once part of the river, but was now upturned sand left by sand miners, Moodley explained the sand along this river was the best for construction and was used to build Moses Mabhida Stadium.
Moodley pointed out three temporary dams he created to contain some of the water and about four catchment points as temporary storage. He also showed the photographs he took of the river that was just a thin stream before sections were unblocked.
“The drought is still here,” he said. “We just helped with a temporary solution. If there was proper planning earlier with storage points put in place, we wouldn’t have this problem now.”
Bhengu said the town now had water thanks to a combination of rainfall last week and the activities on the river. “The whole of iLembe is still in a drought,” he said.
Further, he said the volunteers were accompanied by iLembe staff to the river and had been supervised by the staff during the work.
When asked why the river situation was left to such a dire state and why the residents had to act instead of them, Bhengu deferred these questions to the departments of Water and Sanitation and Minerals, saying they were the custodians of the river.
The Department of Water and Sanitation responded
The Department of Water and Sanitation responded to questions saying it monitored all licensed miners or permit holders, and enforced conditions of the permit as well as their approved environmental plans.
It regularly monitored legal miners according to its inspection planning, and illegal mining was monitored during these inspections and also when complaints were raised.
A permit was valid for two years and renewable for another three years, at one-year periods, which were issued consecutively.
A mining right was valid for up to 30 years and was renewable for up to another 30 years.
Penalties for not complying with the permits was a fine not exceeding R100 000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years or both. The department said if legal action failed, then the offending miner’s permits or rights could be cancelled or suspended and he would still be liable for damage caused to the environment.
“The problem of drought causing a stream flow reduction is a problem to all sectors of the economy and communities. There is less sand deposited on the river bed due to reduced stream flow. The people relying on water from the river are affected as a result,” said the national department.
It also felt there was a need for co-operation between the community, the departments of Minerals and Water and Sanitation, municipalities, the police and the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure that those found to be the cause of illegal activities were brought within the law.
If that failed, then their permits or rights could be cancelled or suspended in terms of section 47.
A sand miner responds
During a visit to the Umvoti River, the Daily News was joined by a sand miner who was helping to unblock parts of the river. He said his company, which had been operating in the area for the past nine years, was granted mining rights while other sand miners were granted permits.
He said the Department of Minerals and Energy issued mining rights and permits and would sometimes visit monthly but sometimes only every six months. “They would mainly come around when there are complaints,” he said.
Permits, he said, were generally 200m, maximum, from one point to the other. “It works on square metres and four point co-ordinates. Generally, on one side of the river,” he said.
When the drought was declared in December, last year, he said the Department of Water and Sanitation had approached him about not digging too deep into the river and suggested they dig from the side of the river instead.