Female duo set out to clean-up Johannesburg’s Jukskei river and create a green corridor

Two females have launched an initiative in South Africa to save one of Johannesburg’s biggest and most polluted rivers – the Jukskei – creating a green corridor in the city.

Conservationist Romy Stander and artist Hannelie Coetzee want to tackle water pollution using research, green infrastructure and art in a model they hope can be replicated for other rivers across the country.

Working closely with the local community, the duo launched an initiative to remove alien invasive plants in last December, with plans underway to build natural water filters to protect the river.

Mining, agriculture, urbanisation and pollution have played their [art in decreasing the quality of fresh water sources in South Africa, according to local water utility Rand Water.

Romy Stander, who co-founded the charity Water for the Future with Hannelie Coetzee, told Reuters: “Water is a reflection of society, and this one is toxic.

“But it can recover and the pollution can eventually go away, to a certain degree. We want to create a green corridor filled with safe water and eco-art that communicates with people.”

The duo are working on community projects with peri-peri restaurant chain, Nando’s, that has funded some of the river rehabilitation. Together with engineers, researchers, architects and scientists, Romy Stander and Hannelie Coetzee are trying to understand what can be done to fix the river permanently.

A monitoring station and a water quality sampling device were installed last September by Campbell Scientific, a scientific instrument provider, and SRK mining consultants, to gauge the river’s water quality and discharge.

This and other research has helped Water for the Future understand the impact of illegal sewage connections, collapsed stormwater drains and high rates of urbanisation in the city that all put pressure on the river.

Adding to the river’s problems are invasive plants that grow alongside its banks and overflow into the water. A report by the country’s ministry of environmental affairs highlighted how alien plants reduce water runoff by between 1,500 to 2,500 million cubic metres per year.

Water for the Future has been consulting with experts to understand what the invasive plants can be used for.

Around 30 local residents are employed in the river rehabilitation project. One of the workers involved in removing the non-indigenous plant species, Sylvester Kumwenda described the clean-up initiative as “more important than what is being discussed in parliament”.

He added: “If we can heal our environment then our young ones will know what nature looks like, and that is priceless.”

Elsewhere, alongside a stone-built canal by Victoria Yards, Water for the Future have co-designed and built an “eco-tree seat” with the city’s road maintenance company, Johannesburg Roads Agency, that involved cutting into the roadside pavement to form a circular structure.

This circular structure captures and harvests rainwater into the roots of a tree, around which people can sit.

The eco-tree seat is one of many innovations Coetzee and Water for the Future are researching to improve sustainable drainage and manage water flow into urban rivers.

Water for the Future

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyles including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com

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