Pro­tect unique Baak­ens River

The Herald (South Africa) - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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.

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