Triwaters Media Release: 30 January 2015
The Triwaters Eco-Expedition has made good progress under strenuous conditions, with 70 kilometres hiked in the first four days as planned. The team had a great reception at Siyacathula Primary School in Breyten (Mpumalanga Province, South Africa) where the first riverside talk was held, and conducted daily miniSASS tests, monitoring the health of the river.
After a rest day the team loaded their boats to float them for the first time on the N2 Bridge between Ermelo and Piet Retief. What followed was three days of torture. The river’s water level was exceptionally low, and for the next three days the team were mostly dragging their boats over boulders, around willows blocking the river and over sandbanks, bringing the total distance covered to date at 125 kilometres.
Of the 55 kilometres of planned paddling, half was actual paddling, the rest of the time the team was dragging heavy boats over difficult obstacles.
During this time Triwaters received an unexpected welcome and exceptional hospitality from the local farmers who were visibly interested in river health and sustainability. According to them the river is at the lowest it has been in two decades.
The team started showing symptoms of exhaustion as the third day of paddling came to an end at the old sandstone bridge near the N11 highway South of Ermelo, and Brett, our Australian team member, was rushed off for medical treatment. Troy and Franz also went for a doctor’s visit the next day. It became clear the Vaal River has become unpaddleable for the foreseeable future.
Recently the Department Water Affairs reported the outflow at Grootdraai Dam (Standerton) at 1.24 cubic meters per second. This is way below the required flow for paddling the river.
The team agreed to take two rest days to recover and to see what rains fall in the upper Vaal catchment. The first notable rain only started to fall on Sunday evening, 25 January 2015, too late to hold to the planned schedule of reaching Alexander Bay on 4 April, aligned with the maximum VISA periods for Brett and Troy.
In the meantime Troy, our Canadian team member, received bad news and had to return to Canada due to a family emergency.
But Africa requires resilience, and the tour will go on. After driving by car for the Standerton Riverside Talk on Monday 26 January, the remaining team returned to the last stop, and cycled to Villiers just upstream of the Vaal dam to float their boats again on Thursday 29 January. This will ensure a continuous source-to-sea and allow them to catch up on lost time due to the previous slow advance and health issues.
The main question still remains unanswered: Why is the upper Vaal River so low?
Although rainfall this summer has been below average, the team feels that it should still be possible to paddle by kayak from the planned put-in. Some changes in the region and South Africa may have contributed to the low river:
- Thirsty invasive trees like Wattle (Australia) and especially the Weeping Willow (England) have systematically started to invade the riverbanks of the upper Vaal. These trees use water from the river and surrounding stream and wetlands feeding the river, lowering the water table and thus potentially reducing the flow in the Vaal.
- Some farmers and activists claim that the increase in open cast coal mining in the region is affecting the water table, possible reducing the flow in the Vaal. But without this coal South Africa’s power stations cannot operate, and the national economy will be hurt by reduced exports.
- At Grootdraai Dam water is diverted to industry and power stations for cooling, and most of this water then evaporates into the sky, away from the river. Yet without this cooling water the power stations will not be able to run and South Africa will experience an even greater energy crisis.
- Below Grootdraai dam farmers rely water pumped from the Vaal River to irrigate crops. Without these crops South Africa’s food security may be under threat.
- Many towns along this section of the Vaal River also rely on its water for human consumption and industry.
It seems that the Upper Vaal River will become dependent on increasingly heavier rain in years to come to create the minimal flow required by a healthy river unless a balance can be found. It looks like the upper parts of the Vaal River may be dying.
The diverted plans of the Triwaters team serve as evidence of the imminent water crisis facing all water users, including large parts of Gauteng, relying on it and this is an indictment on humanity as a whole.
The people of South Africa must find a way to become custodians of our water or we may soon also be adding water to the list of shortages we experience in our homes.
ABOUT THE TEAM
Troy Glover hails from Wemindji, Canada – Ice Road Truckers country. His spring hobby is to monitor pack-ice forecasts and when conditions are right he launches his ocean kayak into James Bay, dodging ice bergs on multiday expeditions. Troy is a teacher with a B.Sc. in a water related discipline and he is passionate about experiential education, especially with First Nations students. His education and science background with his passion for conservation will be invaluable on this trip.
Franz Fuls is the expedition leader. Based in Ermelo, close to the Source of the Vaal he has witnessed the slow deterioration of the environment along the headwaters of the Vaal River.
Franz is an industrial engineer, freelance investigative journalist and adventure sport fanatic (rock climbing and white water kayaking).
Brett Merchant, a prospector from Adelaide, Australia with adventure in his blood. Brett did a source to sea expedition of the Murray River in Australia in 2013, mostly solo. His experience on this journey of similar length will be very valuable, and Brett will lighten up the trip with his home grown Australian humour and will maintain the balance between conservation and industrial growth needs with his career background.
Sponsors and supporters:
South Africa: Pick n Pay, George Switchboards, Fluid Kayaks, Canoe Concepts, WESSA, Mpumalanga Agriculture, Powertraveller South Africa (Wintec Solutions), GroundTruth
Australia: Adelaide Canoe Works
Canada: Baffin Footwear & Apparel, InReach (Canada),
CONTACT OUR TEAM
Canadian Troy Glover. email@example.com . (416) 886 5735
South African Franz Fuls. firstname.lastname@example.org . (+27) 73 861 7532
Australian Brett Merchant. email@example.com . (+61) 08 8370 8170 / (+61) 458 639 423
For more information, please contact Hybrie Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (+27) 17 819 4696