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Water release poses threat to St Lucia

By CHRIS NDALISO Time of article published Dec 28, 2015

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Durban - Two sugarcane farmers and Umfolozi Sugar Planters Ltd (UCOSP) brought an urgent application at the Durban High Court last week to force iSimangaliso Wetland Park to artificially breach the uMfolozi River to the sea.

This will enable the farmers to drain their drainage system into the river, and into the sea.

However, the matter was postponed and is set to be heard in May.

iSimangaliso acting CEO, Terri Castis, said it was the second time in five months that the two farmers had tried to interdict the entity, with the most recent application filed on December 21.

Castis said recent rains had brought a torrent of water into the St Lucia Estuary as the river flowed freely for the first time in months.

“These farmers are farming on a flat plain and their land is sinking. They have lodged this application to drain their drainage system into the river and into the sea. Breaching to the sea at this time would have meant the loss of millions of litres to Lake St Lucia. We are in the grip of a serious drought. Rainfall is the lowest it has been in 65 years,” Castis said.

She said the river mouth would not be temporarily opened to the sea.

“This postponement is a win for the environment and for the people who live around the Park. We were extremely concerned about the possible adverse ecological consequences of breaching and the possible knock-on effects on some 15 000 households whose livelihoods depend on Lake St Lucia, as well as some 6 924 direct and indirect tourism jobs. The St Lucia system is in a fragile state and fresh water from the uMfolozi is critical for the survival of species and the Lake’s recovery,” Castis said yesterday.

She said about 3.2 billion litres of water had flowed into the 17km-long estuary, and the water had reached as far as Brodie’s Crossing, which is about 15km north of the St Lucia Bridge.

Castis acknowledged that the rising water levels in the river could place at risk about 1.4% of the entire sugar crop on the floodplain.

Lake St Lucia is the world’s oldest protected estuary (1895) and Africa’s largest estuarine system.

It is also the centrepiece of South Africa’s first Unesco World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and has been a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance since 1986.

More than 50% of all waterbirds in KwaZulu-Natal feed, roost and nest in this estuary.

Of the 155 fish species that have been recorded in the St Lucia estuarine system, 71 species use St Lucia as a nursery area, and at least 24 of these are important in marine line fisheries.

“We are overwhelmed and gratified by the support from South Africans, especially the people of St Lucia and surrounds, as well as the international community.

“In 1994, South Africans came together to save the St Lucia and Eastern Shores dunes from titanium mining. Today, we face the struggle for fresh water. We remain committed to the restoration of the estuary,” she said.

Attempts to get comment from UCOSP were unsuccessful.

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