For the first time in history, False Bay dried out completely during the drought that we experienced in our area. False Bay, the northern basin of Lake St. Lucia is an intricate wetland and eco-system within the Isimangaliso Wetland Park World Natural Heritage Site.
The lake has experienced droughts before, but this time the factor that tipped the scales against the lake sustaining it’s water, was that no water reached the lake from the rivers as the small amount available was all used upstream.
Although required by the South African National Water Act No. 36 of 1998, no water reserve has been allocated to the catchment. This Act makes provision for water quality and quantity to be set aside to protect the ecological functioning of aquatic ecosystems before water users such as industry or agriculture can be authorized.
The key to balancing equity (some for all) with sustainability (for ever) lies in the new legal provisions in the Water Act of 1008 for the so-called “Reserve”. If all the water in the country could be put into a bucket, the “Reserve” is the water that must always be left in the bucket for basic human and ecological needs.
In the St. Lucia Catchment however, the extraction permit quotas have been based on an annual rainfall average and in dry times the same amount of water – if available – may be abstracted as in average rainfall times. Therefore during dry times, no water flows beyond extraction points such as dams and areas where commercial monoculture tree plantations have been established.
The life blood of the lake is all used upstream in it’s catchment and when there is low rainfall, no water at all reaches the lake! There is often a discrepancy between agricultural abstraction quotas and availability of water for the rural areas too. The historical redirection of rivers feeding Lake St. Lucia such as the Mkuze River and the Mfolozi River for agricultural purposes has also added to the problem.
Suni-Ridge Environmental Centre’s numerous letters concerning the water catchment management of our area, sent to the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) and copied to all sectors that are involved in catchment management such as KZN wildlife, led us to initiating the St. Lucia Water Catchment management forum that has been established together with DWAF.
This forum has participants from all sectors including conservation, agriculture, business, Urban and Rural representatives. Rob Cuthbertson is currently the Chairman.
False Bay Lake in 2007 – the lake is full again, but with sea water as the mouth opened. It’s not an ideal situation, but better than no water. Water management is one of the topics covered in the 5-day Young Environmental Ambassador’s Leadership Course.