Arm in Arm – Linking Conservation Managers and Local Communities to Achieve Conservation Goals
Water is a precious natural resource and, as such, water quality management strategies need to be monitored and evaluated correctly. The pollution of water resources, through the discharge of effluent, can have drastic effects on human health. The township of Mpophomeni is situated less than 4 km upstream of Midmar Dam, which provides water to Durban and Pietermaritzburg, and a number of watercourses run directly through Mpophomeni and into Midmar Dam. The Mpophomeni sewerage system is dysfunctional and overburdened, with the result that raw sewage frequently flows into Midmar Dam from the township. However, a small group of volunteers known as the Enviro Champs began a project to address the persistent flow of raw sewage into the local streams. The activities of the Enviro Champs are focused towards wastewater monitoring and reporting, illegal dump location monitoring, and conducting environmental education utilising citizen science tools including miniSASS, clarity tubes, and GeoODK open-source software. The Mpophomeni Enviro Champs initiative has been key in making a significant contribution to reducing the issues around poor sanitation system management in the area, thus decreasing the pollution going into Midmar Dam. This initiative resulted in the number of overflowing manholes due to sewer surcharge being reduced from 180 in 2014 to 25 in 2018. This was achieved by intensive monitoring of problematic areas and reporting of infrastructure failure and vandalism to local authorities, thus allowing rapid responses in attending to sewage line blockages and surcharges by the municipality. Community education related to all the Enviro Champs activities has become the hallmark of the project. Building relationships with local government, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), as well as, with Umgeni Water have been key in the success of this initiative.