Could we blame the apartheid government and colonialists before them as being ultimately responsible for the current effluent problems being experienced on the Swartkops River.
No, hang about, maybe the blame should lie fair and square at the feet of the colonial and apartheid architects? Who, through their demonstration of bad planning and arrogance, need to share the blame for polluting this valuable estuary.
Have a look at the image above – ‘borrowed’ from the Friendly City of Port Elizabeth Facebook Page.
The comments made on the photo page are the usual ‘useless’ ones about the high ecoli count along with the pseudo non racist comments about the sewage from Motherwell blah blah blah.
BUT – look carefully at the mouth of the river and how it has been constricted by the bridge over the Swartkops River.
The first bridge over the Swartkops was constructed in 1859 and swept away in the 1876 floods. The Wylde Bridge was erected in 1879.
The N2 Bridge over the Swartkops River mouth – built by apartheid planners – is an entirely different kettle of fish to the Wylde bridge further up the river, though.
The Motherwell Freeway Bridge has also altered the course of the river and contributed to choking the natural flow.
All three of these bridges now contribute to the ongoing retention of pollutants in the estuary, though, with the Wylde bridge and build up on the land sides of it forming a ‘second’ river mouth slowing down the flushing of pollutants out to sea and creating a bottle neck between it and the Motherwell bridge hindering sea water from traveling up past the village of Redhouse during the tidal exchanges. It is well known that sea water is a marvelous sanitiser.
Whenever there is a large flood the ‘upper’ river mouth and the river mouth on the sea side of the N2 are flushed out and widened allowing for the sea water to travel far up the river on a high tide and do it’s cleansing work (see images at bottom).
In the grand scheme of apartheid the planners cited Motherwell far away from established white suburbs little realising that this area would grow faster than any other and put enormous pressure on the sewage and water pipes being borne under the bridges to Motherwell. Add in the immense pressure on a storm water drain system and irresponsible plumbing pouring into the Swartkops River and you have a recipe for disaster.
Whoever okayed the siting of industry along the banks of the Swartkops all the way up past Uitenhage also needs to be taken behind the bicycle shed for a bit of a spanking! And as for that seage treatment works slap bang in the estuary – the person/s responsible should be made to eat the product for all eternity.
What do we need to do to remedy this?
Well the completely greenie thing to do would be to get rid of the bridges and leave our cousins in Bluewater Bay, Amsterdamhoek, Motherwell and Coega to their own devices.
The responsible thing to do would probably be to build a ‘Golden Gate’ type bridge over the mouth of the Swartkops River starting from in line with Algorax and leaving the estuary far below to do it’s own thing – and the same with the other bridges upstream. By freeing the estuary and river mouth from that constriction we will be able to ease the pressure on the natural flow and cleansing of the sea water.
It appears that we are fiddling whilst Rome burns unfortunately – A State of the Environment Report published in February 2011 by the The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality says; “We are only as healthy as the world we live in” and goes on to highlight the following about the Swartkops River:
All the 11 mainstream rivers in the NMBM require safe-guarding in order to meet the required conservation targets for freshwater systems. Four rivers (Coega Hume Seaview stream and Swartkops) are so degraded that they require active rehabilitation measures as a matter of urgency.
Of all the rivers within the NMBM only the Swartkops River has a series of data that could be used to assess chemical water quality. Swartkops River water regularly exceeds the recommended limits for freshwater systems for chloride potassium sodium sulphate and magnesium.
The Swartkops River estuary and the resultant limited opportunities to cross it impede development to the north. However Motherwell and its planned extensions dominate the northern side of the estuary. Future expansion from Motherwell extending westwards toward Uitenhage is foreseen in the short to medium term (2010-2020).
Of the 11 rivers the major influence on Algoa Bay stems from the Swartkops Papenkuils and Baakens Rivers. While the Coega River (62 km) is the longest river within the NMBM boundaries the Swartkops River(second longest) and a small section of the Sundays River estuary are considered to be the most influential in terms of the services they provide and their degree of intactness.
The Swartkops catchment is approximately 1555 square kilometres and is bordered on the north and west by the Groot Winterhoek Mountains and rapidly descends to the coastal plains of Port Elizabeth. The catchment consists of four tertiary sub-catchments. The river system consists of two main (Elands and Kwazunga rivers) and two subsidiary tributaries(Brak and Chatty rivers). The length of the Swartkops River within the NMBM boundary is 54km.
The longest rivers in the metro are the Coega and the Swartkops Rivers. The Swartkops River has a higher flow though as the Coega River flow is sub-surface for most of its length. The Coega River has also proven not to be as resilient as the Swartkops River. The Swartkops River despite its over-exploitation through abstraction and the concentration of industrial and urban activities along its banks has somehow managed to maintain some ecological functioning and relatively high productivity. The Papenkuils River which is also known as smelly creek by many local residents is perhaps the best example of a river in the NMBM that has been abused and exploited to the most extreme extent. As mentioned above this is mainly due to the industrial activity along its banks that has caused the river course to be diverted and long stretches of its banks hardened to accommodate storm-water discharges roads and effluent discharge.
Another example of a river that is ecologically damaged perhaps beyond any significant rehabilitation is the Chatty River. The Chatty River is the fourth longest river with its entire length contained within the borders of NMBM. In contrast to the Papenkuils River the Chatty River’s biggest problem arises not so much from industrial activity and the formal discharges of storm water and effluent but from the large number of informal settlements that have been established along its banks. The major effect of the informal settlements derives from the lack of formal sanitation that leads to the discharge of raw sewage and litter into the river. The river is considered to be a major health risk by all local residents.
In summary the water of the lower reaches of the Swartkops River is not suitable for human consumption.
Industrial and organic pollution and the presence of water hyacinth especially in the Swartkops River reduces the quality and quantity of the water resources in the region. These factors ultimately result in a measurable loss of biodiversity in our natural water systems and consequently suggest the impoundment of greater volumes of water.