Michaela Geytenbeek will paddle this year’s FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon with a GoPro camera to help with her research on pollution in the Umgeni River. Picture: Zanele Zulu / African News Agency (ANA)
Michaela Geytenbeek will paddle this year’s FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon with a GoPro camera to help with her research on pollution in the Umgeni River. Picture: Zanele Zulu / African News Agency (ANA)

Master of Umgeni River: Geytenbeek looks for solutions to polluted river

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Feb 22, 2020

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Durban - Dealing with the constant stream of waste that flows down the Umgeni River needs “a mindshift by people who need to fall in love with the world again and want a clean, fresh environment”.

This is according to University of KwaZulu-Natal Master’s student in environmental engineering Michaela Geytenbeek, who is also researching a possible engineering solution to the waste that washes down the river and lands along its banks.

Geytenbeek, who will take part in her first FNB Dusi Canoe Marathon which starts on Thursday, said: “Everyone is open about how dirty the river is and how badly it needs cleaning.”

She completed a degree in mechanical engineering before turning her attention to using that knowledge to improve the environment.

Growing up in Durban, she always enjoyed “making things” from treehouses to board games which led her into engineering, but it was her love of nature and the outdoors which saw her focus more on the environment.

There are a number of civic organisations which have been working together to improve the state of the Umgeni River, with Geytenbeek collaborating with the Durban Green Corridor with regard to her research.

A volunteer empties a litter boom on the Umgeni River.
A volunteer empties a litter boom on the Umgeni River.

Much of the litter in the river comes from informal settlements where there is no waste collection. There are currently litter booms in place to catch the waste as it is washes down, but these are rudimentary in design.

Geytenbeek said the aim of her research was to optimise the design of the booms to catch more waste.

“At the moment, it is a tedious operation because you have to drive or paddle to the booms and physically empty them.

“I will also look at issues such as no resources in informal settlements which leads to a constant stream of litter coming through,” she said, adding that her work would also look at where the major flows entered the river.

“I will also look at climate change, such as increased periods of rain and possible related increases in the waste flow into the river,” she said.

Having always enjoyed hiking and swimming, she started paddling about 18 months ago and will be competing in the Dusi with her partner Scott Rogers. To train for the race, she has been paddling up to four times a week and running “three or four times a week, sometimes with the boat” to practise for the portage sections of the race.

“I was nervous about the race up until last weekend, but now I’m very excited about it. I will also put my GoPro on and will check out the waste.”

And on the possibility of the infamous “Dusi guts”, Geytenbeek said she was on probiotics and “I just try not to think about it”.

This week, the Dusi organisers confirmed that full rivers were “guaranteed” for this year’s event, with a water release by Umgeni Water of 17 cubic metres per second from Inanda Dam on the day of the final next Saturday.

Last week, Umgeni Water said water would also be released from Henley Dam, Nagle Dam and Inanda Dam with the amounts being confirmed this week.

KwaZulu-Natal Canoe Union’s water liaison officer, Kevin Trodd, said: “We can expect a usual release from Henley Dam which is also good.

“For Day 2 we will get a five cumec flow from Nagle Dam which will add to the release for the second day. It should make conditions very pleasant for paddlers on day two.”

He added that Inanda Dam was close to 80% full, which is more than 10% higher than last year, and the release of water from Inanda would help paddlers when they head around the Burma Road portage and “will make the river flow not too technical”.

Independent On Saturday

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