1. PROJECTS UPDATES – PALMIET RIVER WATCH
Representing the Palmiet River Watch (PRW), Lee D’Eathe provides a summary of Key Issues and Key Messages that the service provider, Ground Truth, appointed to undertake the Palmiet River Valley Rehabilitation Project (PRVRP), should take into account to redirect attention from the Quarry Road Informal Settlement to the conservation, rehabilitation & restoration of natural systems; and improve community resilience throughout the Palmiet River Rainfall Catchment”.
2. THE PALMIET RIVER WATCH’S MISSION
The Palmiet River Watch’s (PRW’s) mission is to ensure that burning environmental and human health issues are resolved, with continual, meaningful, significant, sustainable and measurable reductions of environmental impacts, throughout the Palmiet River Valley; leaving a functional and financially sustainable governance model, with a legacy of local human and infrastructural capital in place”.
3. DISPROPORTIONATE ATTENTION GIVEN TO SYMPTOMS
Besides Ground Truth’s presentation, report-backs from EPD-CPB, UKZN-BEDS, The Green Corridor and Human Settlements all related to Quarry Road Informal settlement (QRIS).
Disproportionate attention has been given to the QRIS ever-since the Palmiet Rehabilitation Project commenced in 2012; which has diverted resources and attention away from where remedial action it is required upstream.
4. PALMIET CATCHMENT REHABILITATION PROJECT – PROGRESS 2012 to 2019
In its 7th year, the lack of any meaningful progress is documented in EPCPD’s Palmiet Catchment Rehabilitation Project Report 2017/ 2018; which ought to be corrected by a suitably qualified and experienced consultant.
The preoccupation with climate change and the Quarry Road Informal Settlement (QRIS) situated at the very bottom of the catchment has diverted attention from pragmatic interventions addressing the root causes of the accumulated impacts experienced there; which arise in the upper catchment.
5. A VERY DISTORTED PERSPECTIVE
Meetings held at the Palmiet Nature Reserve give a VERY DISTORTED PERSPECTIVE of the progress of the Palmiet River Catchment Rehabilitation Project; which is in its 7th year.
6. REDUCED EXTENT & SEVERITY OF POLLUTION IMPACTS
The Palmiet River Watch registered pollution events reports have resulted in warnings and notices being served and admittance of guilt fines.
“The very existence of the River Watch is a deterrent in itself (to polluters)”. Lee D’Eathe September 7, 2014.
“The often sparkling Palmiet River water belies the shockingly poor state it is in… unfit for human or agricultural use; while the larger catchment has been described as being in a very unhealthy state and steadily deteriorating…. Even the ionic Palmiet plant (Prionium serratum) after which the river is named no longer survives in the catchment”. Lee D’Eathe ~ Palmiet River Watch – Presentation to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Visitors at the Palmiet Nature Reserve January 30, 2019.
7. SYMPTOMS AND ROOT CAUSES
Only by addressing root causes head-on, will the devastating consequences of flooding, poor water quality, sewage, chemical and plastic pollution, siltation and erosion, and poor water flow in dry conditions, be resolved.
Hard and Ecological Infrastructure systems need to be revisited, throughout the Palmiet River valley; and current environmental legislation considered and applied to undo the damage caused at high-risk sites by outdated planning, development, design, construction, and maintenance practices; which were based on economic and social benefits, with little consideration for the environmental consequences.
Retro-engineering of high-risk sections of the wastewater and the storm-water systems are required so the ecological infrastructure functions effectively to provide goods and services again; which is financially, ecologically and socially justifiable considering the goods and services; and how limited municipal resources are currently locked into never-ending wasteful cycles of reactive maintenance.
Both stormwater and waste-water systems have been designed, built and maintained in a way that wreaks havoc and destroys ecological infrastructure; and is worsened by land misuse, town layout, urban influx, densification, and inefficient enforcement.
8. WASTEWATER DESIGN SHORTCOMINGS
Waste-water systems were built-in and next to waterways and designed to discharge sewage along with industrial trade effluent directly into the environment whenever they block or break; and every time it rains because of illegal cross-connections property owners have made from storm-water to waste-water lines.
Ongoing pollution is likely to include lead, mercury, chrome, copper, iron, zinc…, Nitrates & Nitrites, Ammonia, Herbicides, Pesticides, Medication, Hormones, Pathogens, Detergents and Plastics.
9. STORMWATER DESIGN SHORTCOMINGS
Frequent environmentally destructive storm-water events occur with as little as 25 mm of rainfall, exacerbated by design, ‘development’, densification and poor control.
Designed and built at a time when their environmental consequences were not taken into adequate account, stormwater systems wreak havoc on ecological infrastructure; requiring rehabilitation, commencing at the top of sub-catchments.
Storm-water systems have been built to rapidly flush precious rainwater directly into streams and the Palmiet River, along with waste and pollution, resulting in repeated contamination, soil erosion along with aquatic habitat loss and destruction; and causing downstream flooding; and environmental stress in dry spells because of the drying out of the land and subsoil.
10. PALMIET RIVER WATCH (PRW):
The PRW is a voluntary movement of local individuals, formed in 2013, monitoring and reporting river water pollution events in a way designed to enable the authorities to respond quickly and minimise environmental impacts; and the PRW undertakes river health and water quality assessments; and more recently, managing a flood warning system for the Quarry Road community downstream; and addressing other forms of pollution.
For years residents observed all forms and colours of pollution, with detergent making foam, which stood a meter tall at times, and blew into residents’ yards, and some polluters disposed waste at night and weekends, detected at dawn 10 to15km down-stream.
Lee D’Eathe is engaging directly with the authorities to address the root causes since the consultant has been directed only to undertake planning for the first year, and use Echo-Champs to address pollution.
11. INDUSTRY LEADERS BEHAVIOUR REGARDING RIVER WATER POLLUTION
With the extreme exception of the plastic industry, commercial and industrial leader’s behavior no longer contributes significantly to the Palmiet River’s water pollution.
The Palmiet River Watch has reported and registered around 500 regularly reoccurring and damaging pollution events that are mostly the result of overflowing sewer manholes, caused by blocked sewer lines, which contain authorised industrial trade effluent, causing river water pollution; for which industry cannot be held directly accountable.
12. EFFECTIVE ACTION
Time and funds should not be wasted on more ‘research’, hosting events and individuals showcasing themselves; or the creation of a structure that undertakes work that is already legally or morally the responsibility of landowners, businesses, individuals or departments: which is questionable and causes confusion. CSIR Report. Lee D’Eathe 2018.
13. UMGENI ECOLOGICAL INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECT PARTNERSHIP (UEIP)
As eThekwini’s “proof of concept pilot project”, the PRVRP falls under the overarching Umgeni Ecological Infrastructure Project Partnership (UEIP).
14. DEVELOPING A SUSTAINABLE “METHODOLOGY/ APPROACH/ MODEL”
A credible service provider with appropriate skills, ability, and experience has now been appointed to undertake the Palmiet River Catchment Ecological Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project (June-July 2019).
Ground Truth has the appropriate skills, ability, and experience to redirect the focus of the project to conservation, rehabilitation & restoration of natural systems and damaging hard infrastructure throughout the Palmiet River Catchment.
Ground Truth must be given space to develop and implement a sustainable and successful “methodology/ approach/ model” without directives and undue influence from individuals or groups attempting to fulfill their financial, personal, professional interests by imposing their “methodology/ approach/ model” that have yet to deliver effectively elsewhere. Paolo Candotti (Aller River) declared it would take 40 years to change behaviours.
15. THE “NIFTY SUBJECTIVE OUTCOME ASSESSMENT TOOL”
The conclusions drawn from applying the “Nifty Subjective Outcome Assessment Tool” clearly indicate that more rigorous, independent and unbiased assessments of existing “methodologies/ approaches/ models” are required; and the inherent bias of self-assessments and marketing messages must be recognised for what they are.
16. PALMIET RIVER WATCH (PRW) REGISTERED POLLUTION EVENTS
Every year since 2015 the PRW has observed and registered over 100 serious environmentally destructive river-water-pollution events with the authorities.
The river water pollution events which the Palmiet River Watch (PRW) voluntary monitor, note, report and registers; enable the authorities to respond quickly and effectively reduce the severity and extent of river water pollution which would have otherwise occurred.
17. CITIZEN SCIENCE – RIVER HEALTH AND WATER QUALITY ASSESSMENTS
The river health assessments and water quality analysis undertaken by the PRW since 2014 show the Palmiet River remains highly polluted, severely scoured and devoid of aquatic life for a stretch of 6 to 10 kilometers at times.
18. THE PALMIET RIVER IS NOT UNIQUE
Sewer and stormwater systems cause similar problems elsewhere… in the Vaal River, Umgeni River, Umzimduzi River (Willoton Spill); and with 70% of the 2019 Duzi Canoe Marathon contestants became sick; some with life-long ailments.
PALMIET RIVER POLLUTION – WE ARE NOT ALONE
Like many rivers in South Africa, the Palmiet River is highly polluted; which is a symptom of storm-water and wastewater design reflection on poor land-use and waste management and the environmental health of the valley in dire straits; and has been selected as a water security pilot project. For example: Referring to the Echo-Champs based on the DUCT approach and on the Aller River Paolo Candotti’s bailout phrase is “It will take 40 years to change behavior”.
19. THE COMMUNITY OF INNOVATION (COI) FORUM
The Palmiet River Watch found the Community of Innovation (CoI) Forum was not conducive toward input that did not relate to Quarry Road Informal Settlement.
20. THE WYEBANK AND KINGFISHER SUB-CATCHMENTS
Of the many interventions required, only the Wyebank and the Kingfisher Sub-Catchments were tabled by the PRW through the COI Forum; and the others left until a competent service provider has been appointed and is ready to engage effectively.
“The community can rightfully claim that ongoing and repeated pollution and habitat destruction has caused the fish, crabs, legavaans and birds; that were in abundance a few years ago, to all but disappear!!, and…
“Even the iconic Palmiet plant Palmiet (Prionium serratum) the Palmiet River was named after no longer thrives here!!”
22. FLAGSHIP PROJECT
The reintroduction of the iconic Palmiet plant (Prionium serratum), after which the Palmiet River was named, is the Palmiet River Valley Conservancy’s flagship project again; which was repossessed from the conservancy cabal.
23. POLICY ON LAND GRABS AND SETTLEMENTS IN – FLOOD-PLANES.
On Thursday 25 April 2019, following the devastating floods on the 22nd, the Daily News quoted Mayor Zandile Gumede saying “This is a wakeup call for everyone”; and “the city discourages people from building on high-risk areas, the people did not heed the warnings. We understand that people come to the cities to get jobs and, without accommodation forced to erect shacks elsewhere, this should be a wakeup call for the people to listen, and for the city to implement stricter by-laws to prohibit illegal housing structures”. said Gumede.
On 17 October 2017 – Durban Mayor brings relief to communities affected by flood
Mayor Zandile Gumede said, “Today is about working together as a community to assist those affected by the storm. Communities have been devastated and look to us leadership for assistance. I assure communities that eThekwini Municipality is there to assist where there is major damage.” Mayor Gumede also used the opportunity to urge communities not to build structures on the flood plain as it depletes the natural vegetation that prevents flooding and to dispose of the litter responsibly.
24. ECOLOGICAL INFRASTRUCTURE AT QUARRY ROAD INFORMAL SETTLEMENT.
Nurtured by ‘researchers’ since 2012, the Quarry Road Informal Settlement (QRIS) has mushroomed to fill most the open space, and has changed what had been functional ecologically infrastructure to be completely transformed and ecologically dysfunctional; while putting ever more peoples’ health and lives at risk; and adding to the woes of the Umgeni River, Blue Lagoon estuary/ the mangroves, the beaches, tourism and the Indian Ocean by depositing human and household waste and trash into the Palmiet River.
25. TEN INFORMAL SETTLEMENTS WITHIN THE PALMIET RIVER CATCHMENT.
One of the many informal settlements, the Quarry Road Informal Settlement has been built in the path of the Palmiet River floodwater at the bottom end of the valley; where it experiences all the accumulated impacts from upstream ‘development’ and compromised ecological infrastructure.
QRIS lies below the 1/ 100year flood line; and at risk from storms in the Umzimduzi, Umgeni, Mzimyathi and Palmiet River catchments; with a well-documented history of repeated severe flooding events.
26. HUMAN SETTLEMENTS RESPONSIBILITY
Human Settlements should encourage the QRIS residents to vacate the dangerous predicament they find themselves in before there is a tragedy.
The suggestion made at the COI meeting on 6 September that QRIS’s flood risk be resolved by a stormwater intervention must not be pursued, because: 1. The location of the QRIS is seriously unsafe, and 2. Stormwater Interventions only shift and intensify negative impacts downstream.
27. THE PALMIET RIVER WATCH FLOOD ALERT WHATSAPP GROUP
The Palmiet River Watch created a WhatsApp Flood Alert Group on 2018/10/17 out of concern for the wellbeing the Quarry Road Informal Settlement community who have occupied land and built in the flood path of the Palmiet River; to send warnings of impending bad weather as well as live upstream rainfall readings directly to the QRIS Community.
Consistent with the high value we place on human lives and the strategic importance we place on rehabilitating ecological infrastructure, the Palmiet River Watch/ the Palmiet River Conservancy appeal on behalf of the Quarry Road Community that the Quarry Road Informal Settlement community be persuaded to vacate the high-risk site they occupy.
28. THE FLOOD EVENT 22 APRIL 2019.
Although many informal structures were damaged and the riverbank eroded over the Easter weekend, by the grace of God. there was no loss of life.
“Many people have gone home from QR this weekend so I hope Their homes will be okay” …. and returning to find “their homes and their land” destroyed in the flood. [Quotes Cathy Southland UKZN BEDS].
On the night of 22nd April 2019, branches, vegetation and trash brought down by floodwaters dammed up against the two bridges above the Quarry Road Informal Settlement, flooding the upstream property; and averted what could have otherwise been serious tragedy.
29. THE PALMIET RIVER WATCH “RANT” – 16 JANUARY 2016
The Palmiet River Watch (a non-governmental watchdog championing the Palmiet Catchment; reporting pollution and other undesirable activities, and collecting data in the Palmiet River Valley since their inception in May 2013; which led to the key issues being identified.
Told they may only contribute by providing UKZN-Beds a single slide the Palmiet River Watch scheduled what turned out to be a well-attended community meeting; which was held on 16 January 2016.
The PRW presented “Key messages” along with a “Rant List” of “Mission Critical” issues, and Officials and the community produced an Action Plan.
The Action Plan was subsequently disregarded through collaboration between Kloof Conservancy, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (BEDS) research team and the eThekwini Municipality.
The Palmiet River Watch asks individuals, businesses, professionals, the authorities, landowners, educators, NGOs, conservancies etc… “Why on your and my watch do we have ongoing unattended environmental degradation, violations, and infractions… Contraventions of (serious) National legislation, and (less serious) Municipal By-laws.
PRW’s RANT list Included, but not limited to: Industrial pollution, Freshwater pipe bursts, Sewage (wastewater) pollution, Riverbed and riverbank erosion, Solid and vegetation waste, Alien Invasive species, Land fragmentation, and misuse, Poor application of Legislation and Byelaws.
30. HISTORICAL RECORD OF MAJOR FLOODING EVENTS.
Repeated severe flood events are on record for the Umgeni/ Mzimyathi/ Palmiet River Catchment system in 1848, 1854, 1855, 1856, 1868, 1905, 1917, 1935, 1972, 1984, 1987, 1917, and 2019.
The Quarry Road Informal Settlement lies below the 1/ 100year flood line; while the QRIS Committee say an emergency evacuation plan had not emerged after the risk assessment the QRIS community undertook which was initiated by UKZN-BEDS.
31. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH:
Pragmatic interventions are required, based on sound environmental engineering practices, to rehabilitate the land, streams and watercourses, since they are damaged, transformed, highly polluted, with poor river health; and the whole food chain is contaminated by pollutants.
32. UPCOMING PRVC EVENTS
A. PRW – “LET’S TALK RUBBISH” – 21 SEPTEMBER 2019
A Local River Cleanup – In support of International Coastal Cleanup
“Let’s Talk Rubbish” aims to:
Reduce waste disposal in the environment.
Optimize trash collection (at source)
Reduce waste to landfill.
Advocate for the value of plastic.
Have the plastic and recycling industries take responsibility.
Let’s Talk Rubbish… “Instead of occasionally traveling to do beach clean-ups, we do regular local clean-ups, and stop the waste at source off your street and verges and out of gutters… prevent trash getting into the storm-water drains which carry plastic and other waste to streams, rivers estuaries, the beach, and the ocean”
B. ECHO-CHAMPS TO A PALMIET SUPER-CHAMP TEAM
The Palmiet River Watch initiated a trip for a group of Palmiet River folk to meet and see Enviro Chaps in action in Mpophomeni, possibly during September; including a visit to the rehabilitation project in the Pietermaritzburg Botanical Gardens; with a reciprocating visit to the Palmiet to follow.
The purpose is, prior to recruitment, to identify desirable characteristics of individuals and skills that need to be acquired to function effectively in the Palmiet River Valley.
33. MINUTES OF THE COMMUNITY OF INNOVATOR (COI) MEETING FOR THE PALMIET RIVER REHABILITATION PROJECT, HELD IN PALMIET NATURE RESERVE ON 03 JUNE 2019, AT 11H00 AM.
ITEM 8. FIELD EXCURSION By a show of hands several attendees (~12) indicated they intended to visit the Quarry Road Informal Settlement; which was on the agenda. The site visit was unfortunately canceled by Simiso Bhengu – owing to unforeseen circumstances.
Undeterred by the sudden cancellation of the site visit, several Palmiet River representatives proceeded forthwith on a site visit of Quarry Road Informal Settlement; and forwarded photos they took that afternoon to GroundTruth for inclusion in the minutes.
34. ACKNOWLEDGED AND APPRECIATION.
Lee D’Eathe acknowledged and thanked Palmiet River Watch folk who, commencing in 2013, continue to contribute to the collection of indisputable evidence of ongoing unresolved flood and pollution; and he acknowledged and thanked the many officials who respond effectively to recurring complaints under trying circumstances, and he thanked Ingrid who tirelessly stands by and supports his endeavors.
“Doing the impossible every day”
Lee D’Eathe The Palmiet River Watch
The Palmiet River Valley Conservancy
One ‘Pollution-Free’ Catchment in eThekwini