Exploring current and emerging irrigation and drainage management to reduce the impact of extreme events and mitigate droughts and floods.

Published online
04 Sep 2019
Content type

Roux, L. le & Juba, R. & Mbanjwa, W.

Publication language
Africa South of Sahara & South Africa


Effective water management has become an important part of sustainable economic development worldwide. In areas dependent on agriculture for livelihoods and local economic development, an integrated approach to catchment management is key in ensuring long-term availability of high-quality water. Agriculture in South Africa is also faced with an increase in irregular rainfall patterns as a result of climate change, affecting infiltration rates of water, and severity and frequency of flooding and drought events. This, and other factors have led to the establishment of hard infrastructure in rivers to protect private property from flood damage but also undermines already established ecological infrastructure, which is often integral in regulating water flow, sediment deposition, nutrient filtration, and maintenance of biodiversity. These issues are often compounded by other issues like excessive water abstraction, pollution from agricultural runoff and effluent from human settlements, and invasion by alien fauna and flora. This study takes a participatory research approach to identifying the opportunities and barriers in the Berg River Catchment, regarding innovation in irrigation and drainage practices aimed towards informing integrated management of the catchment. Different engagement tools have been employed to ensure the incorporation of varied perspectives and knowledge of the social-ecological system. Internationally applied practices are used as inspiration to draw out and evaluate context specific interventions for the Berg River The Berg River Catchment is an important component of the Berg River Water Management Area (WMA), which supports the various water uses of 7 economically intensive municipalities, including the Berg River, Saldanha Bay, Swartland, Drakenstein, Stellenbosch, Witzenberg, and City of Cape Town municipalities. As such, the Berg River Dam and the Wemmershoek Dam in the upper reaches of the river are important reservoirs for consistent supply of water to these municipalities but also pose significant environmental threats associated with reduced flows affecting the ecological reserve, disrupting sediment flows, and loss of natural flooding regimes. Reductions in the ecological reserve invariably also leads to increased concentrations of nutrients and other pollutants in the main channel, which (in addition to increased salinity from the soils towards the West) affects agriculture and industrial activities downstream. These effects would naturally be buffered by the influence of clean water and natural flow regimes provided by tributaries. By consolidating the outcomes of continuous engagements with local stakeholders, this report details stakeholder perceptions regarding the management of the Berg River Catchment. Recommendations arising from the identified influencing factors, opportunities and barriers were well aligned between the various stakeholders and could be broadly grouped as interventions in (i) innovation, (ii) implementation and coordination, and (iii) policy, legislation and information sharing. We propose a continuation of efforts to rehabilitate and invest in ecological infrastructure in the Berg River Catchment. Through prototyping interventions which integrate ecological infrastructure and built infrastructure to support agricultural productivity, ecological function and disaster risk reduction, we aim to support and address local and provincial priorities. Specific research questions have been highlighted and we commit to continue facilitating knowledge creation and exchange. We aim to build stronger relationships with and between stakeholder groups active in the Berg River Catchment, and create the space for new collaborative relationships and partnerships to emerge.

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