/ 8 April 2009

SA’s water puts species at risk

The quality of South Africa’s fresh water is so compromised that the survival of some species in our rivers, lagoons and dams are at risk.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has reported that freshwater fish, amphibians, shellfish and insects are threatened.

One study of 1 279 freshwater species in Southern Africa found that 7% are at risk of extinction. Of the 94 threatened species, 78 are found in South Africa.

The species included fish, crabs, frogs, molluscs and aquatic plants. The IUCN said the study should raise serious concerns in the region about water sources that many people depend on.

The biggest threat to the species is development that leads to habitat loss, as well as loss of wetlands for agricultural use, and shrinking water resources as a result of over-extraction of water and droughts. Triggers for even further loss in the future include unsustainable dam construction and climate change.

”Figures will skyrocket unless something is done now,” the IUCN warned.

”Most developers have not taken freshwater species into consideration because they simply don’t have the information they need,” said IUCN’s director general, Julia Marton-Lefevre.

”Africa’s water resources can be developed without causing thousands of extinctions.”

According to the report the Komati and Crocodile river tributaries in Mpumalanga and the Mbuluzi River basin in South Africa and Swaziland are fragile.

Other rivers of highly suspect quality are the Vaal, the Jukskei and the Magalies, the Olifants in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal’s Umgeni River.

Several of these have unacceptably high volumes of E coli bacteria and unpublished research indicates that this pollution has filtered into groundwater.

Linda Page, spokesperson for the Department of Water Affairs, says the government spends significant amounts on monitoring water quality through the river-health programme.

The department was most worried about areas with stressed catchments with over-allocated resources and areas such as Gauteng, which have significant mining activity and urban development.