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Source of the Berg RiverThe source of the Berg River, looking towards Franschhoek from Assegaaibos. Photo: Mark Heistein

Within the CWBR are the sources of seven major rivers as well as many tributaries.  The mighty Berg, Breede, Palmiet, Eerste, Riviersonderend, Lourens, Kuils, Sir Lowry’s and the Du Toits are some of the rivers which are the bloodline to Cape Town as well as all the towns in the CWBR.

Without them there would be no drinking water, irrigation water, water reliant industry, swimming pools, showers, fish tanks, water to fill your radiator, water your garden or even take a bath. No fire hoses, dams to fish on, water to ski on, have you hair done, wash your car or make beer, wine or brandy, there would be no trout to eat, and in fact we would probably not be here.

They are without a doubt our prime resource, and yet we treat them with so little respect.

 "The E-coli count is sometimes so high that it's an absolute danger to people who consume the water," Democratic Alliance MP Wilhelm le Roux told members 2005

We spend fortunes making the water potable, and then proceed to flush it down the toilet to end up back in the river again. The CWBR believes that there needs to be a paramount shift in people’s attitude around rivers, and that education is the most powerful tool to address this. This is one of the reasons that the CWBR concentrates a major portion of its resources addressing the youth, from preschool to tertiary levels.

It is not only the youth that need to made aware of the consequences of river pollution;

Berg River pollution imperils Cape
Cape Town - If pollution of the Berg River, the lifeblood of the Western Cape, was not brought under control, South Africa's fruit, vegetable and wine exports to the EU and the US would be in danger, the Cape Regional Chamber has warned... InternAfrica

As the population increased in the Cape, so did the related problems. To control the sand dunes, hackia was planted; to tan hides, wattle was imported; alien pines and eucalyptus were imported as building material once our local timbers were depleted. This had major effects on our water sources, which we now need to tackle.

Many Western Cape farmers depend on water from the Berg River for irrigation, but due to pollution and alien vegetation, the quality of water has deteriorated to such an extent that R300 million is needed to clear the river. This is a daunting, but not impossible, task, believes Francis Steyn of the Western Cape Agriculture Department 2011 -- Farmers Weekly

The CWBR now works hand in hand with Landcare, a section of the Department of Agriculture and will be propagating indigenous trees, at The Ultimate Living Centre to reforest the riparian zones along the river banks.

Many believe that the problem of pollution will go away by itself after each major rainfall, but dilution is not the solution.

E. coli counts behaved differently compared to other water quality parameters in that higher counts were identified during wet weather conditions compared to dry conditions. Rainfall events increased the count of E. coli in the study area in combination with faecal pollution that runs off surfaces in informal settlements Mgese, Sivile University of Cape Town 2010

As the world trend of migration to urban areas continues, so does the problem of providing essential services in unplanned informal settlements.

The lack of sanitation for poor residents, many who are still on the bucket system, or having to walk several hundred meters to the nearest toilet, is one of the major problems.

Bucket contents are often disposed of directly into storm water drains, which bypass the sewerage system and goes directly into our rivers.

The main problem in the Western Cape is informal settlements. The influx of people has led to a massive backlog in provision of housing and basic services. - Business Report

E coli counts of 5000 to 2,400 million have been recorded, which is dangerous and could create a public health risk.

In order to address these problems, the CWBR believes that they have to be curtailed at source not once they are in the main rivers. It is therefore imperative that the resources of the World network of Biosphere Reserves should be consulted to see how other parts of the world are solving similar problems.

The protection of water resources is not just the function of Government or municipalities, but of every single person, no matter where they live or what their occupation is. The effects of jobs losses both in industry and in agriculture, should exports be affected by poor water quality, are immeasurable.

It will affect everyone.

But there is fantastic work being done to tackle the problems and bring them under control.

  • The CWBR is developing the Sewerage to Tree program , which is investigating how mini sewerage works can recycle water into tree nurseries within informal settlements
  • Cape Town City council has the 110% Green program, bringing private and business partnerships together.
  • Bio-mimicry SA is working with John Todd and has designed a holistic water treatment system using natural cleansing methods.
  • Biosphere Reserves together with Working for Water and the Department of Agriculture have several projects preserving river banks
  • New legislation has been brought out banning any development within 32 meters of a river bank.
  • There are numerous companies within the CWBR installing sewerage systems and water recycling units on their farms and in factories

These are just a few of the efforts taking place.

There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.

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