Merrivale Stream – Dams and Flowers

Day 3: Dams and Flowers

Friday afternoon, when most people begin to wind down the work week, Penny and Preven started the third source reconnaissance of the sprawling arms that are the Merrivale stream. Preven writes:

This source started on the far end of the Sakabula Golf estate so we trundled up the main road leading from the N3 to Mpophomeni and  Boston


 until we could find the best spot to view the source area.


On Google Earth this dam looks very green and eutrophic – a watercolour painting from high! We stop for a while looking through the fence at two horses standing in the water in the far side of the dam. One horse nonchalantly slips its long nose underneath the surface of the water and appears to alternately hold its breath and blow a few bubbles before emerging 8 seconds later. Most peculiar.


Here at the fence where the road slices across the source of the little stream, the stream is full of reeds. The water cannot be seen but it looks very swampy nevertheless with Kikuyu grass and reeds hiding the watery depths and bramble flowering on the banks. A peach tree laden with tiny immature fruit.


We cross the Boston road and head over to where the stream emerges on the other side. Sheltered from the highway by a sloping bank we have found a series of strange dams. The first dam looking green and stagnant from a distance


It is actually covered with thick layers of floating duckweed and submerged fine oxygen weed.



Very little water flow can be seen; trees are submerged and water lilies float on the surface and are held here prisoners in by the green duckweed. A few geese are scattered but they fly onwards to less greener waterways.

Each dam is separated from the previous one by means of a dam wall which, by the looks of things, does not allowed any water to flow out. The second dam seems in no better condition. On either side of these dams lush kikuyu grows.


The natural stream has been converted into an unnatural wetland.  With a little work this section could be a pleasant walkway and the stream could flow more freely. At the third dam someone has been using machinery with caterpillar tracks to remove mountains of Papyrus which seems to be in danger of taking over the second and third dams which are still are heavily choked.




With a little more flow allowed between these man made dams there will be less of a need to use costly mechanical methods to remove the alien vegetation. Prevention is always better than cure. A quaint pump house is at the end of the dam but there appears to be no outlet for the water. We find a small hole underneath the road which is also the dam wall but nothing emerging on the other side. This presents a bit of a mystery and we search to find how the water flows between the dams and come up blank.

By the time we get to the fourth dam things are beginning to improve and the water is clear,


constantly moving (with fish jumping) as we walk along the banks, although most of the dam seems to be filled with fine ogygen weed.


There appears to be quite a lot of aquatic life in these dams as fish can be seen jumping in the water but they also seem prefer clearer water as opposed to light green. The fifth and final dam in this series is the clearest and has a spill way on the edges which allows the water to over flow and escape down another path.


A little love and some simple engineering can transform this section of the stream into a lovely little afternoon meander.

We then find a fenced section and the stream flows into a new boutique shopping centre development. It has manicured hedges and lawns and the dam is clean and free of invasive plants. Clearly the landowners have recognised that the river running through this property is a valuable asset and will be an attraction for its future guests.  So they have lavished much care in this waterside garden.



How amazing would it be if all our river banks received the care and attention that has been paid to creating these gardens?  Instead we have found all sorts of  horrors, mostly due to indifference and disrespect.

The sixth dam has been invaded by reeds and bulrushes


to the extent that there is only a narrow strip of visible – and sadly, once again green water.


Once again, the dam wall is also a road, and amongst the Kikuyu grass next to the road we spy Tulbaghia plants and see that someone has planted a collection of different palm trees, including Phoenix reclinata.


A large pipe channels the water under the road


after which the stream now converts into a lush wetland


unfortunately with Bramble beginning to invade the edges before it joins the other dark sewage streams of last week’s walk. The wetland here is working overtime


and does seem to purify the water a bit, but all that work is lost as soon as it hits the road and joins the open sewer where we walked last weekend.



The stream along the road is immediately trashed with litter and oil and the sewerage has begun to flow again on the ridge and down the concrete channel.


We see it cascading down the storm water channel as we approach this most terrible of confluences.


The stench is strong now. Quite amazing that just a few hundred metres above this site was a beautiful, pleasure garden reminiscent of Mughal kings and yet here we find the stream once again beginning to be severely degraded.

We have completed the third arm of the Merrivale streams. Tomorrow we will begin the fourth and final arm and hopefully things will be better than what they have been so far.

After three days of walking a trashed river, one’s soul does long for the sight of a simple babbling brook, clean water and the open countryside. With these sincere prayers for the morrow we head back home.


About Nikki Brighton

I live in Howick, between the river and the hills. I enjoy pre-dawn walks in the streets with my dog, sitting on the veranda with crochet and tea, and harvesting vegetables outside the kitchen door.
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