Fresh water is an important natural resource for — actually, I’m going to start over and restate this as: Fresh water is absolutely critical for life on this planet.
There is no other way to express how important fresh water is. Fish in rivers obviously need it, animals and plants need it, and us humans need it for our drinking water. Where does our freshwater come from? From rain, springs, streams, rivers, lakes, snow melt, etc. And if half of South Africa’s freshwater originates on 8% of its land, we should take a closer at the story of the areas where we collect it.
First, take a look at annual rainfall charts of the Western Cape to see where the water is falling: the mountains. Moisture in the air that blows inland from the coast cannot handle the drop in air temperature when climbing elevation over mountains, releasing much of the water on the mountain slopes. The water then collects into streams, rivers, maybe lakes, and then moves towards the ocean…
Well, it used to be that simple. But to be able to introduce all the agriculture, animal husbandry, and industry in the Western Cape, we’ve built dams at many points between the rain drop and ocean. Here, a farm’s reservoir collects the water to be piped down the mountain and distributed across the property. One of the common request we received from farmers as we asked for permission to cross their land was “you are free to walk, but just don’t pee in my water!” Farmers have every right to be protective of their pure freshwater mountain sources. Most of the mountain land which is privately owned is done so for protection of water sources of nearby farms. For how could you invest in the land as a farmer without a guarantee that you’ll have enough water for growing crops?
Farmers aren’t the only ones using the water and trying to protect the freshwater resources of the mountains. The South African government has designated many mountain areas as Mountain Catchments and regulates development in those areas to protect the water for continued use. In the map below, all dark green areas are National Park land, medium green areas are Western Cape Parks land, and the areas outlined in blue are “Mountain Catchment Areas” which are protected by law. And as may also notice, the Rim of Africa (the red line on the map) traverses a lot of these important water catchment areas.
Impacts to the water quality on the mountains along the Rim of Africa can effect the health of local farms, the wildlife populations dependent on the mountain rivers, as well as people living in the middle of Cape Town. Threats to freshwater include erosion and sedimentation (increased sand and minerals in water), pollution, mining , fracking or other harmful industries, over-extraction (from completely exhausting water supplies), and imbalances from invasive plant or animal species. While walking we can keep an eye out for the harder to reach places, providing feedback to landowners about their water sources.
In a World Wildlife Fund project Journey of Water, you can find a lot of information about the freshwater catchment areas of South Africa, the locations they provide for, and the threats they face. Be environmentally intelligent — know the journey of your drinking water from source to tap!