This article was originally published on page 5 of The Mercury on October 03, 2006 (www.iol.co.za
Another large dam will be built in the catchment area of the Kruger National Park's largest river, the Olifants River, despite objections by SA National Parks Chief David Mabunda and several environmental groups.
The De Hoop Dam, which will provide water for new platinum mines and farms, was given the final go-ahead last week, when Environment Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk dismissed appeals from Mabunda and other objectors, who fear the project will reduce the water flow in the Olifants River.
However, Van Schalkwyk said he shared several of these fears and had ordered his department to begin a strategic environmental assessment study to mitigate and guide further development projects that threatened the ecological future of the park.
Although he believed the department of water affairs had demonstrated the need to build a dam, Van Schalkwyk acknowledged that the De Hoop project would have "definite and substantial detrimental impacts on the environment".
It was necessary to put new safeguards in place to mitigate the impact to acceptable levels.
The dam is to be built in the Steelport River, a tributary of the Olifants River - which already has 30 large dams outside the park's boundaries and is fre-quently polluted by mines and industry in the Phalaborwa area.
Announcing his decision on Friday, Van Schalkwyk said appeals against the project had been lodged by several groups, including SanParks, the National Parks Support Group Trust, the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the South African Water Caucus.
Apart from concerns about the reduced water flow in the Olifants River and negative effect on tourism in the Kruger, some objectors also argued that the dam would only benefit mining and industry, rather than poor local communities.
Owing to the complexity of the issue, Van Schalkwyk had appointed two external experts to advise him on a final decision.
The two advisers, Prof MT Seaman, of the University of the Free State, and environmental consultant C Bruwer, recommended that an assessment study on the Kruger/Lowveld area as a whole was needed "with a degree of urgency" because of growing threats to the ecology.
The water affairs department should also be bound by a legal, written agreement to ensure that the park received a predetermined minimum water allocation.