Gauteng and NW Province

The Journey of Water: from pure and drinkable to polluted

Posted on 06 November 2013

Tuesday’s Journey of Water update will be brief, as your intrepid reporter is tired from another long and fascinating day. It’s a lucky break I don’t type with my toes, because those definitely need a rest after another 19km.

Today we saw water through its transition from a purely natural function to its purposeful use by people on farms, in homes and for industry.

It’s no surprise that all of these uses are taking their toll on the region’s rivers. Dr Jeanne Nel of CSIR told the Journey of Water walkers that 8 out of 10 of the Western Cape’s rivers are critically endangered.

Professor Jo Barnes of Stellenbosch University has been studying river health since 1998. She told us about the “slow disaster” of sewage pollution, which is the biggest threat to the Western Cape’s water quality. By slow disaster, she means that by the time you realise it’s happening, you are already in the midst of it.

“There is no such thing as upstream when it comes to water quality,” says Barnes. “In nature, it doesn’t matter who’s right. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was. In nature, we’re only dealing with consequences.”

It was a message made plain by our path today. We saw water go from pure and drinkable in the nature reserve to toxically polluted in parts of the river flowing right through Stellenbosch. To return clean water to our taps, the Faure Water Works – the last stop of the day’s journey – cleans millions of litres of water a day.

That’s the water that comes from our taps, but only after a considerable journey.

It is each and everyone’s responsibility to conserve water. By harvesting rainwater for household use and by recycling grey water we can slowly return to the once clean rivers.

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