Coast KZN

01 Aug 2016

Triple boost for St Lucia

Barbara Cole (Daily News)

The welcome relief of the recent, solid rains at Lake St Lucia estuary has been just the start of the good news for the restoration of the lake’s hydraulic system.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to secure an additional R16 million over and above the initial R30m to remove the unwanted dredge spoil to more effectively allow fresh water from the uMfolozi River into Lake St Lucia,” explained ­Andrew Zaloumis, the chief executive of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa’s first World Heritage Site.

Now, with R46m to spend, “the work has been accelerated by installing a bigger slurry pump which has doubled our capacity to remove the unwanted dredge spoil, thus increasing the rate from 121 litres a second to about 260 litres a second. The new pump is also more water effective per ton on spoil removed,” he said.

This follows the latest reports which indicate that the flows and volumes from the uMfolozi River into the Lake St Lucia estuary as a result of the increased rainfall over just three days last week has been about 300 million litres a day, with the water level in The Narrows rising by about 20cm.

This has increased the volume of water in the whole Lake St Lucia system to some 2 billion litres, “with just over half of this coming from the uMfolozi and the rest from direct surface rain and local seepages,” a statement from iSimangaliso said.

The Lake St Lucia system levels have risen by some 20cm, with the surface area going from 25% before last week’s rains to about 40%.

“This is hugely significant considering that in February – at the height of the lowest rainfall year in 65 years – the surface of the lake was at 10%,” Zaloumis said.

Earlier this year, iSimangaliso Wetland Park began the biggest wetland rehabilitation project in the world, and a milestone in the healing of the estuary.

That was when a R10m contract was signed with Cyclone Engineering Projects to remove some 100?000 cubic metres of dredge spoil (sand, silt and vegetation) obstructing the natural course of the uMfolozi River. The operation is now running well on the park’s Estuary Beach, with dredge spoil slurry being pumped out to sea.

“The significance of the uMfolozi River, especially during the current severe drought, was recognised in May when iSimangaliso received a ground-breaking victory for nature after the presiding high court Judge Mohini Moodley ruled in favour of the environment,” the Wetland Park Authority recalled, explaining that an application by several parties had been dismissed.

The dispute concerned the breaching of the uMfolozi river to the sea with the Umfolozi Sugar Planters Ltd (UCOSP) and two farmers, who were among the applicants, contending they had a right to do this to alleviate back-flooding on certain low-lying farms, and with iSimangaliso arguing that it was implementing a management strategy that had developed after consultation with UCOSP, and that the restoration project comprised minimum interference.

The landmark judgment allows Lake St Lucia’s lifeblood to be returned, iSimangaliso says.

“The uMfolozi River is the ­major source of fresh water into Africa’s largest estuarine lake, and the engine that keeps its mouth open to the sea. This is a story of environmental justice for the 800 hippos and 1 200 large crocodiles whose home is the lake, as well as many other endemic and threatened species,” iSimangaliso says.

Tourism directly related to the estuary has created some 7000 jobs and generated about R1.2 billion for the area.