50 Years of Umko 1966 - 2016 1966 - 2016 - Page 101

C HA P T E R N I N E Keep the Umko Running Free “We have got to fight for the preservation of the Umkomaas River, the last truly great river in Natal that still flows freely from the mountains to the sea”. - Dr Ian Player Our duty to save the river The downside of dams for our kids and grandkids Compare paddling 20km from No.1 to No.8 and 20km across a dam. No A report on damming the Umko many years ago was of the opinion that the river “will almost certainly be dammed”. We - anyone who loves nature, loves this valley and this river, and cares for our environment and our future - should not let this happen. For very sound reasons. Please don’t be misled: There are very good reasons NOT to dam rivers1. We now believe a dam has quietly been started above Bald Ibis Falls near Deepdale. Ian Player, at a gathering of “Dusi greats” That does not mean the fight to convened by Rob Stewart in Durban in save our rivers ends. We need December 1988 to question how this dam was started (if indeed it has) and challenge its legitimacy. As paddlers and river-lovers we need to make sure all alternatives are used to prevent it ever being built. Ongoing challenges face the Umko and our enjoyment of the river and the valley. These include attracting new paddlers to wild water canoeing. Umko stalwart Meyer Steyn remarks: “An observation on Umko: Every year the average age of the paddlers is one year older“. The same people are loyally paddling every year and loving it. How do we attract new paddlers and children of present paddlers to the race? Luckily KCC say they are attracting new blood. They have tried many innovations and extra events on the marathon weekend and have looked at reception in the valley which at present precludes live streaming. The use of the Hella Hella overnight has helped hugely, as it is o wned by the local clan and KCC’s use of the venue helps with its viability and thus gets rural local people to have a real stake in the race. Glen Haw has done this very successfully with mountain biking. 101 comparison as far as us river paddlers go, but we would readily admit that’s a biased view. So we have to look deeper into the pros and cons of damming rivers. And the cons are far greater than the pros. There are often better, cheaper, longer-term and less destructive alternatives to building a dam to meet water needs, or to reduce the impacts from floods. These solutions - from small-scale, decentralized water supply, to wetland restoration, to largescale efficiency and conservation options - are real solutions, but they have frequently been ignored or dismissed out of hand by short-term thinking when a large dam project is on the table. The problem is they are slow solutions, not spectacular. There’s no ribbon cutting for the cameras and no quick profit now. But they are real long-term solutions we need to fight for, as there are plenty who will fight for the sad alternative. Especially when developers whose sole business model is ‘build dams’ are involved. They are not being allowed (for good reasons) to build dams in developed countries (in fact they are now actively ‘de-commissioning’ dams there2) so they look to poorer countries and to amenable politicians and investors to continue doing what they do. Right now the biggest dam in the world by volume, Kariba, is in danger of collapse. A collapse would cause a catastrophe which could undo all the supposed good of building the dam in the first place. To those who say dams are inevitable we say think of the implications: The Kruger Park must inevitably be mined? It need not be so. I give you one recent development that only very recently people were confidently saying was impossible: Running a household on solar power and batteries. Of course, very soon all who denied it will be denying they ever doubted it, but the truth is things change. Thanks to cellphones and electric cars, battery efficiency has advanced enormously, and thanks to huge increases in solar panel efficiency this is suddenly becoming very likely in the much nearer future than nay-sayers will admit. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, some believe it is the only thing that ever has. History has so many instances where experts know too much and dismiss (or don’t even notice) what determined dreamers can do. UMKO 50 Years