When the Tugela River nearly dried up twice last month and Sappi engineers realised that the river had dropped overnight, they donned their Sherlock Holmes deerstalkers and set off to find the “leak”.
Sappi regional communications manager Zelda Schwalbach said Sappi sponsored a flight from the Spioenkop Dam to the Tugela River mouth on May 27, and invited the department of water services (DWS) along for the ride.
What they found was an illegal weir that stretched all the way across the Little Tugela before it flowed into the Tugela River (between Spioenkop Dam and Colenso), allegedly built by a farmer to pool water for himself.
Schwalbach said DWS tried to ensure a minimum flow of five cubic metres per second (cumecs) into the Lower Tugela estuary, which was essential to keep the estuary alive.
When the river dropped to less than one cumec, production at the mill slowed down and affected dilution of water from the mill was released back into the river.
“Below two point five cumecs the mill starts to struggle to maintain water flow and at one stage the mill reservoir level dropped to critical levels with the river basically coming to a standstill,” said Schwalbach.
Only a short spell of rain in May saved the mill from closing. She said legal action was DWS’s responsibility and activities along the river had to be measured against licensing requirements for those activities.
In the meantime, DWS has released more water from the Spioenkop Dam and the Tugela River has maintained around five cumecs for the last eight weeks since the trip.
– Caxton News Service