Durban – A donation of over R23m would be used to find an effective and sustainable solution for the hydrological problem of the St Lucia lake system, which is part of South Africa’s first World Heritage Site.
The St Lucia system has for years been struggling with its worst drought ever. The salt content of the system is in places three times higher than sea water and there is currently no fish or birds in these parts.
In 2009, a channel was established between the Umfolozi River and the St Lucia lake to help the flow of fresh water as an emergency measure but the river twice came down in flood, which caused water full of sediment to end up in the shallow lake system.
Over the next two-and-a-half years, existing research would be revised, the feasibility of several solutions would be investigated and an accompanying environmental impact study would be done, said Bronwyn James, a senior manager of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on Wednesday.
The funds for this came from a donation of $9m (about R65.5m) over the next five years from the Global Environment Facility.
Andrew Zaloumis, executive head of the park, said fresh water flowing into the lake system had been an issue since the 1930s.
In the 1950s, wetlands near the estuary of the Umfolozi River had been dried out for sugar cane fields and the river was led to the sea via channels. The Umfolozi River was however the biggest possible source of fresh water for the lake system.
Zaloumis said there were those who believed the Umfolozi’s flow had to changed so that it flowed into the lake.
There was, however, also a debate about whether anything should be done at all, as the lake system had been shaped by huge events about 100 years or more apart.
The problem was, however, that droughts occurred every eight years or so and that people then rushed to find a solution, starting to implement it and then dropped everything once the drought was over, said Zaloumis.
He said the park now wanted to look at which solution held the least interference with the best benefits.
The park also announced on Wednesday that R125m of the government’s budget for public works would be used over the next two financial years to shape a uniform image for the many conservation areas in the park. This included erecting new signs and upgrading entrance gates, parking lots and observation points.