PRESS RELEASE: Kamfers Dam: on the brink of collapse?

Kimberley may soon lose one of its most well-known attractions as deteriorating water quality and increasing water levels make Kamfers Dam progressively more unsuitable for Lesser Flamingos.

Lesser Flamingos Kamfers Dam

A recent water quality study, conducted by Dr Jan Roos from Water Quality Consultants in Bloemfontein, has found that Kamfers Dam’s water quality has deteriorated significantly during the past year. “The Kamfers Dam aquatic system is under severe pressure because of a massive cyanobacterial (algal) bloom and extreme oscillations in oxygen concentrations, driven by poor water quality”, said Dr Roos.

Not only is the water quality the worst it has ever been, but the water is now at its highest level ever. More than two-thirds of the Lesser Flamingo breeding island remains flooded, and two important railway lines are at risk. “This is a disaster” explained Jahn Hohne, Chairman of the Save the Flamingo Association. “Kimberley is about to lose one of its most important assets and tourist attractions, and the massive displays of thousands of flamingos which greet visitors as they arrive in Kimberley may soon be gone forever”.

According to Dr Roos, the nitrogen, ammonium, fluoride, phosphates of the inflowing sewage water are exceptionally high and way above the allowable Department of Water Affairs standards. “The non-compliance to treatment standards by the Homevale sewerage treatment works is still the biggest problem to ensure an acceptable water quality in Kamfers Dam”, stated Roos in his report. Kamfers Dam is a nutrient enriched system because of an excessive inflow of nutrients (sewage) and consequent high algal biomass. The Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), for example, in the discharge water is very high (206 mg/l) and above the maximum allowable limit of 75 mg/l.

“Kamfers Dam is one of the most important feedings sites for Lesser Flamingos in southern Africa, but this may change” said Mark Anderson, an expert on the biology and conservation of the Lesser Flamingo. “This is because the composition of algae is changing from mainly blue green algae, Spirulina platensis, which is the dominant food of the Lesser Flamingos, to Chlorella, one of the green algae”. There is concern that toxin- producing algae, such as Microcystis, may also soon be present in this polluted wetland. These algae are suggested to be responsible for the mass die-offs of Lesser Flamingos at lakes in East Africa. It is however not only the flamingos who are being affected. When an algal bloom collapses all available oxygen is consumed and these conditions lead to the production of hydrogen sulphide gas (a rotten egg smell). This is a poisonous gas, which is extremely toxic to fish and other animals. It also causes bad smells and is a major nuisance and irritation for residents in neigbouring suburbs. Even visitors to the Road Lodge and Flamingo Casino have been complaining about the stench.

Of further concern is that faecal coliform bacteria in the outflow water were unacceptably high (>241 900 cfu/100 ml) and in fact too numerous to count at the Institute for Ground Water Studies laboratory in Bloemfontein. The general limit for faecal coliform in sewage effluent is 1000 cfu/100 ml. These bacteria are often an indication of human pathogens in the water, so people who come into contact with the water could be in danger of being infected with several diseases. The E. coli concentrations were also too numerous to count.

“Kamfers Dam is an internationally-important site, and one of only six places in the world where the Red Data –listed Lesser Flamingo breeds, and the only breeding place in South Africa”, stated Anderson, who’s Executive Director of BirdLife South Africa, the country’s largest bird conservation NGO. “During the past three years the flamingos have bred on an artificial island which was constructed by Ekapa Mining” he added. “There were 9000 chicks in the first year, 13 000 chicks in the second year and possibly only 2-3000 chicks during the last summer”. The rising water level resulted in the flooding of the island in November last year, and thousands of chicks drowned and eggs were lost. “Although some work is being done at the Homevale Waste Water Treatment Plant, there’s absolutely no progress in the upgrading of the sewage works” said Hohne. “More than R200 million is required to upgrade the works so that it can process Kimberley’s waste water and treat it to an acceptable standard, funding which the Sol Plaatje does not have”.

The Save the Flamingo Association (www.savetheflamingo.co.za) was formed to address the threats to Kamfers Dam. “These threats not only include the water problems”, said Hohne, “but also the massive Northgate housing development which was proposed for construction on the property adjacent to Kamfers Dam”. The Association is doing its best to address these problems, and the latest water quality report was sent to Minister Buyelwa Sonjica, Department of Water Affairs.

The Save the Flamingo Association and the Booth family, Kamfers Dam’s landowners, have also opposed the Northgate development, and are taking the Northern Cape government’s decision on review. For media enquiries, please contact Mark D. Anderson (011-7891122, 082-7880961,
director@birdlife.org.za)

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