Pines run mountains dry

Felled pine tree

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) –┬ápartnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems
26 January 2010

Serious water rationing, comparable to electricity load shedding, could be on the cards for Garden Route towns unless action urgent is taken to rehabilitate mountain catchment areas, where alien pine encroachment has transformed large areas of the mountain landscape to closed-canopy pine forests.

Pines use up much more groundwater than the indigenous fynbos, resulting in potential water yields from the catchment areas dropping by between 30 percent and 100 percent, depending on the annual rainfall. This could mean serious water rationing in Garden Route towns.

Removing pines and ensuring that pine-free areas are maintained is just part of the solution. Scientists have suggested a scheme whereby users pay for the ecosystem services that catchments deliver, through, for example, water and tourist levies. The argument is that the SA economy has to begin recognising environmental costs and making them more explicit.

The Garden Route has some of the lowest water tariffs in the country, according to Andrew Brown, co-ordinator of the Garden Route Initiative, part of Cape Action for People & the Environment, a partnership programme of the SA government to protect the rich biological heritage of the Cape Floristic Region.

“Cheap water and rapidly degrading catchments cannot be sustainable,” he says. “If nothing is done, we’ll likely end up facing big increases in water tariffs anyway to pay for fixing water transport and treatment infrastructure from increased erosion, or building storage capacity to catch what’s left from the pines, or putting in expensive desalination facilities.

“It reminds one of cheap electricity, bad planning, rolling blackouts and Eskom’s application for 45 percent electricity tariff hikes,” says Brown.


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