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Clearing Alien Vegetation ‘Vital’ in Catchment Areas

04 September 2018
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Clearing Alien Vegetation Vital in Catchment Areas

Alien vegetation is a problem across most of the Eastern Cape and catchment areas as it uses up vital water reserves which are now even more important in the drought period

Call for faster tree removal in the catchment areas to free up water flow to dams

We need to up the ante on eradicating alien trees to capitalise on new research which shows that it is the best way to free up extra water. Highlighting the urgent need for change in the alien vegetation clearing regime, at the current rate of progress in the Kouga River catchment – which supplies the Kouga Dam and which presently, sits at 7.2% of capacity – it will take us at least 700 years to finish the job.

Senior NMU botanist Prof Richard Cowling, who was one of a small team of experts behind the launch of the Working for Water programme in the mid-1990s, said recently the water supply regime in the southwest region of the Eastern Cape was in crisis .

“We’ve known since the 1940s how much water these exotic trees suck up and it’s exasperating that the clearing work has not been mainstreamed by municipalities to protect their water supplies.

“At the same time the inefficiencies of the Working for Water programme are well documented, and we need to rectify those problems,” added Cowling.

The difficult Kouga terrain

Alongside the large groups of poorly managed and unskilled temporary workers, we need to put in crack teams of highly skilled workers to clear alien trees from the difficult terrain of the Kouga catchment.

“Government is trying to win political gains at the expense of ensuring reliable and sustainable supply of water from our catchments.”

“Yet, the programme was presently benefiting neither the environment nor true empowerment, he said. No water will mean no jobs at all.

“The new look teams would consist of permanent employees who would benefit from high-level training and who would be paid well for their skills and the back-breaking work that this job entails.”

Cowling, who has been honoured four times with a National Research Foundation A-rating, and who ranks among the 250-most cited ecological researchers globally, said the clearing of alien vegetation was vital in times of drought .

“During these times, we have to rely on ‘base flow’, that little bit of water that trickles down the streams after a shower. But because most streams are clogged with wattles and pines, most of this flow is sucked out before it gets to the rivers.