The environmental loss of illegal sand mining

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JOHANNESBURG 12 December 2015 - Excessive sand mining at Umvoti River has seen the production of potable water drop from 18 mega litres per day, to zero in October. Taps ran dry in 27-thousand households in Kwadukuza for three weeks. R

KWADUKUZA - Thousands of residents in KwaZulu-Natal are bearing the brunt of years of illegal sand mining at the Umvoti River.

The river on the north coast, also affected by the drought, recently dried up due to excessive sand mining.

The 20km long water system of the Umvoti River, which stretches from as far as Greytown, through KwaDukuza, and into the sea, once rivalled the mighty Tugela River.

But its water levels are now metres lower than in previous years.

The iLembe District Municipality says 40,000 people were without water for three weeks.

Research shows that KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape are home to more than 200 illegal sand mining operations - riverbanks here are in great demand.

Umvoti River sand is as good as gold in the construction industry. Its stellar components have placed it among the best sand in South Africa for building purposes.

It’s so sought after, that the sand is oftentimes sold to buyers in Gauteng, but this comes at a great environmental loss.

Sand mining, a lucrative age-old business along the Umvoti River, involves excavating sand from the riverbanks.

This leads to a plethora of problems, including diverting the river’s natural flow, increased evaporation and soil erosion. 

Operators freely excavate sand from the depleted river banks in areas the municipality considers out of bounds.

The mineral resources department is ultimately responsible for monitoring sand mining activity, as well as enforcing compliance, while the water affairs department deals with the impact on the river.

But, it appears there’s little co-ordination between the departments. 

The Ilembe District Municipality says it now faces the burden of fixing the damage caused by sand mining.

R6-million has already been spent on a channel to guide the river back to its original path.

Several boreholes, costing about R120,000 each, had to be sunk in areas where the river used to flow.

And another R6-million in revenue, which the municipality makes supplying water, was lost during the three week water cut.

* Watch the full report by Judith Subban in the gallery above.