Impact of land use on water quality and aquatic ecosystem health of stream networks in the upper uMngeni catchment feeding Midmar Dam, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Freshwater in adequate supply and quality is vital to life on Earth; however, land-based activities such as development, agriculture, mining and industry, and their associated contaminants, pose a major threat to the quality of freshwater water resources and health of aquatic ecosystems. The upper uMngeni catchment draining into Midmar Dam is a strategically significant water resource, supplying clean drinking water to the eThekwini, uMgungundlovu and Msunduzi municipalities. The quality of this resource is under threat from current land-based activities such as Mpophomeni settlement and agriculture and emerging threats in the form of the Khayalisha social housing project. Monitoring sites were established in varying land use types in three sub-catchments of the upper uMngeni, to assess water quality and ecosystem health impacts of current land uses on Midmar Dam. A suite of physical, chemical and biological water parameters were sampled in conjunction with SASS5 bio-monitoring to assess the associated impacts. Water quality and ecological condition were highest in forested land use and upstream of Mpophomeni where natural land cover and sparse settlement occurred. Marked declines in water quality and ecological condition were observed at areas under commercial agriculture, indicated predominantly by rises in nutrient concentrations and declines in the SASS5 indices. The most notable declines in water quality and ecological condition were observed at sites downstream of Mpophomeni settlement as a result of severe sewage contamination, indicated by high E. coli counts. Nutrient concentrations downstream of Mpophomeni settlement ranged from mesotrophic to hypertrophic, with nitrogen to phosphorus ratios indicative of nitrogen limitation. Ecological condition remained in the ‘seriously/critically modified’ category over the study period. Nutrient loads produced by Mpophomeni are the highest of all the land uses, followed by that of commercial agriculture; both should be viewed as a concern, more so when viewed in terms of their compound effect on Midmar Dam water quality. Current water quality draining the commissioned Khayalisha social housing development area is good and although not natural, is of no contamination concern to Midmar Dam. Results indicate that with current land use activities, urban development and agriculture pose a potential threat to the quality of Midmar Dam resource and that further development in the form of the Khayalisha social housing project may replicate impacts already prevailing in Mpophomeni, whereby a principle water resource may be threatened by eutrophication.
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