Protect unique Baakens River
IT may only measure 23km from source to mouth, and is taken for granted by many residents, but Port Elizabeth’s Baakens River is of vital importance to the city’s continued environmental health.
That is why a landmark ruling to stop a large housing development in the sensitive upper catchment area of the river, across the highway from Baywest, is so critical.
The Herald reported yesterday that a plan to build almost 3 000 houses there had been stopped in its tracks by the provincial department of economic development, environmental affairs and tourism because of the potentially irreversible impact on the Baakens’s complex feeding system.
Continued conservation, not just of the river but also of its valley, home to several unique species besides being a fine recreational site with huge tourism potential, has to be fought for.
This river has been messed with so many times in the past, not least by early city fathers who simply did not know any better.
Its once flourishing estuary was filled in more than a century ago and canalisation at the mouth was another ill-conceived plan.
Stormwater drains were built so as to flow directly into the Baakens, increasing the risk of flooding and pollution.
At the same time one has to accept that the river is now at the heart of what has become a huge urban landscape.
While many of the past mistakes cannot be reversed, there is much that can still be done to ensure the future health of this vital system.
It starts with doing away with the notion that urban sprawl is the answer to meeting the city’s growing development needs and, as the powers-that-be in Bhisho suggested, rather activating dormant approved projects and densifying existing suburbs.
Already there are plans afoot by the municipality to upgrade, possibly even rethink, the underground sewerage network flanking a large stretch of the river, particularly along the bottom of the valley in the Essexvale area where spills have been occurring with worrying frequency.
The Baakens is a unique natural asset to which this city owes its very location.
We have an obligation to future generations to do everything in our power to keep it alive and healthy.