En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs still has much work to do on curb­ing wa­ter loss

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - SHEREE BEGA

WORK­ING for Wa­ter’s fo­cus on job cre­ation is not ob­struct­ing ef­forts to con­trol in­va­sive species – the op­po­site is true, says a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.

“We’re spend­ing more than R1 bil­lion di­rectly on the Work­ing for Wa­ter pro­gramme this year, em­ploy­ing about 63 000 pre­vi­ously un­em­ployed peo­ple, and clear­ing more than 800 000 ha of in­vaded land,” said Dr Guy Pre­ston, deputy di­rec­tor-gen­eral for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­grammes at the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs.

“Th­ese are big num­bers. The man­age­ment of so many peo­ple, the stake­holder en­gage­ments, the data man­age­ment and re­port­ing re­quire­ments, are truly ar­du­ous.

“That things go wrong is ob­vi­ous and in­evitable, as in any kitchen, any work­shop, any re­search lab­o­ra­tory.

“There are lost hectares (cleared but rein­vaded). There are some projects with far too high costs. There are things we are do­ing that are sim­ply not pri­or­i­ties.

“What we do have is an ex­pe­ri­enced and com­mit­ted man­age­ment ca­pac­ity, and we are con­stantly im­prov­ing. It is true we’re a bu­reau­cracy, and chang­ing course has its chal­lenges – es­pe­cially when con­fronted with a need for emer­gency re­sponses, such as af­ter a wild­fire. But we have built up some­thing no one else has done any­where in the world. We have more than 100 na­tional and in­ter­na­tional awards, de­spite not en­ter­ing for them.”

Pre­ston was re­spond­ing to an ar­ti­cle in Week­end Ar­gus last Satur­day about re­searchers’ find­ings on Work­ing for Wa­ter’s ef­forts in the Cape Flo­ral Re­gion. The re­search team were from the DST-NRF Cen­tre for In­va­sion Bi­ol­ogy at Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity, SA Na­tional Parks, CapeNa­ture and the Nel­son Man­dela Metropoli­tan Univer­sity.

They said Cape Town and Port El­iz­a­beth could lose as much as 36 per­cent of their wa­ter sup­ply over the next 30 to 50 years if Work­ing for Wa­ter failed to im­prove the man­age­ment of in­va­sive pine trees in pro­tected ar­eas of the Cape Flo­ral Re­gion.

It was found Work­ing for Wa­ter’s man­age­ment prac­tices of­ten fell short of the re­quired stan­dard. The fund­ing and man­age­ment of alien plant con­trol projects would have to change markedly, said the study’s lead author, ter­res­trial ecol­o­gist Pro­fes­sor Brian van Wil­gen, of the Cen­tre for In­va­sion Bi­ol­ogy (CIB).

“The way in which South Africa funds and man­ages alien plant con­trol projects will have to change sub­stan­tially,” he said. “The con­se­quences of not get­ting this right are se­ri­ous. In­vaded and de­graded catch­ment ar­eas will com­pro­mise our abil­ity to grow this re­gion’s econ­omy. So we need fewer jobs now for well­trained and mo­ti­vated work­ers to pro­tect far more jobs in the fu­ture.”

Pre­ston said Van Wil­gen was ab­so­lutely cor­rect in his as­ser­tions of the se­ri­ous­ness of the in­va­sion by pine trees in the moun­tains of the Cape Floris­tic King­dom, and else­where.

“If any­thing, (the re­search- ers’) es­ti­mates of the po­ten­tial dam­age to long-term wa­ter se­cu­rity, should the pines be al­lowed to fully in­vade, are conservative.”

The task of pri­ori­tis­ing Work­ing for Wa­ter’s ef­forts was “com­plex, tech­ni­cal, re­liant on mon­i­tor­ing to as­sess the ef­fi­cacy of in­ter­ven­tions, and in need of strong man­age­ment ca­pac­i­ties”, Pre­ston said.

“With­out the labour-in­ten­sive ap­proach, we would not re­motely have the re­sources we have been af­forded to do our work.”

The com­bined bud­get was R3.2 bil­lion in this fi­nan­cial year alone.

Work­ing for Wa­ter, he ar­gued, pro­vided an orig­i­nal blue­print for South Africa’s poverty re­lief pro­gramme, and its suc­ces­sor, the Ex­panded Pub­lic Works Pro­gramme.

Pre­ston said the re­search pa­per did not ad­e­quately fac­tor in four ma­jor con­sid­er­a­tions: the use of alien and in­va­sive species reg­u­la­tions; the po­ten­tial use of in­va­sive biomass for value- added in­dus­tries; the re­cent in­tro­duc­tion of land-user in­cen­tives and the re-es­tab­lish­ment of a part­ner- ship with the tim­ber com­pa­nies that pro­moted the use of in­va­sive pine species in their plan­ta­tions.

Also, wild­fires could not be dis­counted nor pre­dicted.

“When in­vaded ar­eas burn, the ger­mi­na­tion of seeds of in­va­sive species is a ma­jor con­se­quence.

“Af­ter the March 2015 fires on the Ta­ble Moun­tain chain, th­ese seedlings led to a need for ur­gent fol­low-up clear­ing (cost­ing) about R35m. We have had to take that money from other sources. This in­cludes high-al­ti­tude clear­ing of pine trees (and other species) on Ta­ble Moun­tain.

“We’re in a sit­u­a­tion where we dare not fail to ad­dress the re­growth of in­va­sive plants on Ta­ble Moun­tain, par­tic­u­larly the in­ter­face with built- up ar­eas.

“To do so would be to in­vite an un­con­trol­lable fire in the fu­ture and undo the part­ner­ships with those who live ad­ja­cent to the moun­tain and who must keep their land clear of in­va­sives.”

Com­mu­ni­ties are trained to elim­i­nate alien plants such as bug­weed, which sap the wa­ter sup­ply of rivers and streams and choke in­dige­nous veg­e­ta­tion.

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