Kap River crisis

Collapsed bridge had environmental impact

THE once beautiful and lush Kap River has run dry due to years of neglect, flood damage and Ndlambe Municipality’s alleged mismanagement and slow progress in repairing a bridge that collapsed in the 2012 floods.

DRY: The once flourishing Kap River has been reduced to a dry river bed. Bordering farmers fear permanent ecological damage if proper intervention does not take place. Bordering farmer Doffy van der Byl looks on to where the river is meant to be, photographed early August

The Kap River, which borders the Kap River Nature Reserve to the east and privately owned farms to the west, was once a haven of natural raw beauty that flourished with its sub-tropical vegetation, bird life, fish species and otters.

Damage to 2nd Culvert 21 Oct 2012

For the last six months, due to the lack of rain and adequate municipal intervention, the river has finally succumbed and is now a dry bed of sand and silt.

The area is riddled with invasive species such as inkberry and Sesbania (rattlebox) which have been seen growing in the middle of the river by neighbouring farmers. Sesbania has mushroomed along both banks of the Kap, all along the confluence.

Cattle and several species of game cross over between the Kap River Reserve and the farms with no immediate solution to the problem.

Kap River is known for its popular canoe trails which have been unable to take place since December last year, when owner and farmer, Pieter van der Byl of the Nature View Farm Stall and Tea Garden, said their visitors hadn’t been able to go very far in what was once a pleasant  3km up river canoe trail.

Van der Byl, who has lived on his farm with his wife for 20 years, said historically, at the deepest point, Kap River was between 3-4m deep , and even during previous droughts, and floods, the river never dropped below 2m at the same area. Now the area is covered in silt.

Typical average Kap River water level to East

“We walked along the dry Kap River bed for a distance of about 3km.  In all that distance there were only a few pools of ankle deep water left, with no sign of any surviving fish,” Van der Byl said.

Van der Byl said there remained some knee deep water between our location and the Kap River confluence to the East, which otters, water monitors and a host of bird species birds have been very heavily targeting over the past months.  “One cannot but help wonder what fish might have survived this disaster, and what effect this inevitably is going to have on the bird life in due course,” said Van der Byl.

Kap level to West 22 July 2017

He has written to EOH Environmental consultants (who are contracted to the bridge repair engineers) and reported that the following known aquatic species are hugely impacted; fresh water springers, moonies, common carp, mirror carp, silver carp, fresh water mussels and crabs.

Many of the farmers feel that the collapse of the bridge has played a significant role in the disappearance of the natural river. Van der Byl pointed out that the collapsed bridge has changed the flow and drift of the river.

Kap flood left view riverbank 21 Oct 2012

Recent rains boosted the river level considerably, though as fast as it built up, the water drained away again via a donga where a temporary bypass gravel road had been in use since the 2012 floods.

“This resulted afterwards in a water level of at least 2m lower than might have been expected in earlier times (before latest flood damage).  It was clearly evident at the overflow site, that the present drainage level is at least 2m lower than the existing, original concrete drift/causeway overflow level,” he said.

“The reserve seems to have become very overgrown in general over a long period of time, and with much less game visible than in the old days,”  said Van der Byl.

In February this year, TotT attended an AGM in Shaw Park for the Eastern Borders Farmers Association where the Kap River Bridge was an issue for discussion.

At the AGM, ANC councillor MK Raco announced that the proper environmental impact assessment was finally concluded after five years. Comments from the floor arose stating that the initial tender that was granted to repair the bridge didn’t carry out the EIA correctly.

“So we are at the beginning,” Raco said.

The proposed new bridge structure is anticipated to be a maximum of 34m long, 12.5m wide at base level, with the maximum width at deck level of 7.5m. The structure will have a maximum height of no more than 2.5m above invert level, with 10 culvert openings.

Damage to 1st Culvert 21 Oct 2012

Raco said he was determined for the project to be completed in under a year’s time.

The South Seas pineapple farmers used this bridge on a daily basis but have been forced to redirect to alternative roads that have been constructed adjacent to the collapsed bridge.

Ndlambe municipal spokesman Cecil Mbolekwa said the Kap River Nature Reserve is not entirely in Ndlambe, and is only a district entity run by Ndlambe.

He said the district municipality had started renovations, but Ndlambe was struggling to fix the road. “It is one of the areas of attraction in the municipality, so it must be addressed,” he said.

“It is absolutely imperative that the planning engineers ensure that the new drainage culverts be constructed at a drainage level at least the height of the existing concrete causeway.  If this is not done, the river will never stabilise at the historic level which in the past allowed canoeing to be done,” Van der Byl said.

This is a developing story.


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