Walking Along the Willowfountain

The 9th of October 2014 marked the end of a two-day river walk along the Willowfountain/Wilgerfontein river that traverses the greater Imbali Township and meets up with the uMsunduzi river at Campsdrift.  Sanele Vilakazi compiled this report.

Penny Rees, Siyabonga Ndlovu, Kholosa Magudu, Sithembiso Sangweni, Sanele Vilakazi(all DUCT staff) and Khanyisani Dlomo (Witness Reporter) came out in full force to fully explore this tributary of the uMsunduzi. The team walked well over 14km across the two days.

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One of DUCT’s aims within the coming year is to target tributaries/streams of the Duzi found within the upper reaches of the uMsunduzi river basin. It’s integral that we as river custodians and the public at large, get a full understanding of the detrimental impacts that these rivers are faced with as the population growth of communities within this area of Pietermaritzburg is ever increasing. With this knowledge on hand a lot of the secondary negative effects can be avoided further downstream.

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The walk as a whole was undertaken to assess the state of the rivers’ health and it provided DUCT with vital information on spotting which areas had the potential of becoming “Green Hubs” for DUCT’s newly planned initiative known as the uMsunduzi/Duzi Green Corridor. The findings of this walk will be used to assist in carrying out the above mentioned initiative forward and starting the mobilization of river care within the greater Imbali, Ashdown and Slangspruit townships.

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The Willowfountain Journey

Once again, with the use of our invaluable mobile mapper (Spectra Mobile), we were able to pin-point areas of environmental significance during the walk itself. With a lot of us being fairly new within terms of using this tool, the walk provided us with a great platform learn how to use it. What a great tool!

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Thanks to Midlands Conservancies Forum for securing the funding from N3TC to purchase the mobile mapper. All data collected by the mapper will be later collated to produce an informative map detailing various features and highlights picked up on the walk.

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After the walk we were left disheartened by the ailing health of this stream. Many developments/residential establishments don’t obey the 32m buffer (any surprises?) with the construction of fences/walls, buildings, gardens and lawns. Within the lower reaches of the Willowfountain the water was found to have great excess nutrients. These mostly came from sewage effluent from the numerous surcharging sewers and seepage from overflowing septic tanks.

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This was clearly evident within the residential areas where there was a change in water colour as it was a continuous milky grey colour (with an ‘eggy’ smell) right down to its confluence with the Slangspruit. As the river crossed through the Imbali Units 1 and 2 township the water was algae green and numerous watercress and duckweed plants were present – robbing the water of oxygen.

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Water clarity testing and a mini-SASS was conducted within the upper reaches of the catchment. From our assessments, we found the health of the river to be declining rapidly as one moved from source to confluence.

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In closing, I’d like to share with you three river quotes which sum up our reflections and thoughts of this river walk:

Any river is really the summation of the whole valley. To think of it as nothing but water is to ignore the greater part. — Hal Borland, This Hill, This Valley

We labor long and earnestly for peace, because war threatens the survival of man. It is time we labored with equal passion to defend our environment. A polluted stream can be as lethal as a bullet. — Senator Alan Bible from Nevada

Choosing to save a river is more often an act of passion than of careful calculation. You make the choice because the river has touched your life in an intimate and irreversible way, because you are unwilling to accept its loss. — David Bolling, How to Save a River: Handbook for Citizen Action

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About Nikki Brighton

I live in a Magic Cottage near the mist-belt forest with my African dog, Dizzy. We enjoy long walks in the fields to gather wild greens, sitting on the verandah with a pot of tea, and harvesting vegetables outside the kitchen door.
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