SA's water saving efforts boosted as felled gum trees are sold to Australia

15 April 2021 - 12:12
Felled gum trees along the Breede River will assist with efforts to save water in the Western Cape.
Felled gum trees along the Breede River will assist with efforts to save water in the Western Cape.
Image: Supplied

The felling of huge eucalyptus trees has been hailed as the least expensive and most effective way to avoid a water “day zero” in and around Cape Town.

The mid-Breede River project to remove alien invasive plants along 25km of the river frontage near Bonnievale aims to return seven million litres of water per hectare cleared, per year, to the river system and much of the gum tree wood felled will be sold back to Australia, where it came from.

The collaboration involves multiple stakeholders, including the Western Cape department of agriculture’s LandCare Areawide Planning initiative, Inhlabathi Environmental Services, the local farming community, private enterprise, and local SMMEs, which will benefit from training and development by Avocado Vision.

LandCare Areawide Planning is a problem-solving process that integrates social, economic and ecological concerns over defined geographical areas to sustain environmental health through natural resource management, incorporating locally-driven initiatives.

“At the heart of our commitment to sustainably manage our biodiversity lie partnerships with organisations such as Inhlabathi, Avocado Vision, the farming community and local SMMEs. Together we must ‘bend the curve’ of biodiversity loss and take steps to mitigate the negative impact of unsustainable farming practices and climate change on our biological diversity,” Western Cape agriculture MEC Dr Ivan Meyer said in a media statement.

Louise Stafford, director of water funds at The Nature Conservancy (TNC), said their research in 2019 showed that alien invasive plant removal was significantly the most cost-effective intervention for potential water saving.

The estimated cost of invasive alien plant removal per 1,000 litres of water saved was R1.20, as opposed to R15.30 for desalination, R11.40 for waste water re-use and R7.05 for groundwater supplies. 

David Gardner, director of Inhlabathi, said the first felling of trees in December represented an important milestone in the Western Cape’s sustainable water-saving journey.

“This is the start of our virtuous cycle-based approach that incorporates 100% clearing of eucalyptus from river areas, ensuring that maximum value is extracted from the felled trees and that a certified programme of aftercare is implemented to return the river ecosystem to its original state,” said Gardner.