Coast KZN

16 Mar 2016

Court forces St Lucia to lose fresh water to sea

Witness Reporter

The fresh water flowing into the Lake St Lucia estuary from the uMfolozi River — a boon for the ecosystem there — has been short-lived.

In terms of a court order the fresh water in the estuary had to be routed into the sea yesterday. A link channel was recently created between the uMfolozi River to Lake St Lucia after decades of dredging had created a bank between the two and stopped the flow of fresh water into the lake.

Before the spillway was created, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park was concerned about the severe drought conditions affecting the estuary and its wildlife.

iSimangaliso director Andrew Zaloumis said in a statement released yesterday that if water continued to flow into the estuary for another two days, water could reach Catalina Bay and possibly even go further north to become an aquatic habitat once again.

He said the water would have positive impact for the 15 000 rural households as well as 800 hippos and 1 200 Nile crocodiles.

“Unfortunately, the up side in this case also comes with a down side,” said the statement.

The statement said on March 12, iSimangaliso received notification from Umfolozi Sugar Planters (Ucosp) that the water had reached a certain level and that in terms of an interim settlement agreement that was made an order of court in October 2015, and which is valid until May 2016, excavators had been deployed to the beach. “It is expected that the breach to the sea will be completed later [yesterday],” the statement said.

“What this means is that the fresh water entering the St Lucia estuary will now flow out to sea — thousands of litres of fresh water will be lost to the Lake St Lucia system,” he said.

He said Ucosp and two farmers launched an application in the High Court in August 2015 to compel iSimangaliso to breach the uMfolozi river mouth to the sea.

“This was the last time water flowed from the uMfolozi River into Lake St Lucia. The application was postponed and a date has not been given for this hearing.

“We are extremely concerned about the possible adverse ecological impacts to Lake St Lucia from the breaching of the uMfolozi River to the sea, as well as the possible knock-on effects on the livelihoods of many people.”

He said more than 50% of all water birds in KZN feed, roost and nest in this estuary.

Harvests of raw materials, particularly estuarine sedges, are estimated to be worth around R7,5 million a year. The contribution of the estuarine floodplain areas to livestock grazing is estimated at R3,6 million per year.

“This is arguably the biggest wetland rehabilitation in the world, and a milestone in the healing of the Lake St Lucia estuary,” said Zaloumis. — Witness Reporter.


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