Progressive decline noted in park’s rivers

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It is no secret that one of the major gateways for pollution to enter the Kruger National Park (KNP), is via its rivers. The park is traversed from west to east by six major rivers, of which only the Sabie still flows permanently.

Upstream of the park, these waterways are shared by industries that are significant economic drivers of the country, like mines, power generation, agriculture and urban development, each leaving their mark on the quality of water as it flows towards Kruger and onwards through Mozambique.

A recent report on the state of the park’s rivers has indicated a progressive decline in water quantity, quality and associated plant and animal life. The Olifants and Crocodile rivers have shown the greatest deterioration, but there is also concern for the worsening water quality of the Luvuvhu and Letaba rivers. While the Sabie-Sand River ecosystem is in a good condition, the Sabie is experiencing increased incidence of the reserve not being met.

The reserve is the amount of water that the river needs to survive in order to continue being of benefit to people, and is a legal right captured in the National Water Act of 1998. Robin Petersen, the park’s freshwater ecologist, says management cannot do much to change the water quality, as they inherit issues that take place upstream.

Yet, SANParks might be getting more legal clout when resource quality objectives (RQOs) are promulgated for the Lowveld region by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) within the next two years.
RQOs are the condition of a freshwater resource’s water quality, flow, habitats and biota necessary in order to ensure that it is protected for the benefit of all.

It calls for a balance between the needs to protect and sustain a water resource, and the need to develop and use it. According to Petersen, if for example, water quality of a river in the park does not meet the RQO, SANParks can advise the DWS to take offenders to task.
He adds that the park plays an important watchdog role. “SANParks is very committed and involved with various stakeholder groups and governmental structures outside the park where monitoring data is presented in an attempt to influence decisions made upstream from the park.”

Petersen says positive outcomes attributed to SANParks relationship building with these groups through the DWS and catchment management agencies have resulted in improvements in ecological reserve delivery in recent years.

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