From: "Philip Owen" <>
Date: Fri, 19 Dec 2003 09:25:19 +0200
To: <>
Subject: Fire and Water and What's 10X Worse?

Dear All

At the CFI - Community Forestry Initiative meeting, 25 November 2003, Mr. Rodger Godsmark (Assistant Director, Forestry South Africa) remarked that "with no afforestation, the floods of 2000 in Mozambique would have been 10 times worse!"

Mr. Godsmark is under the impression that eucalyptus and pine monocultures has a water retention / flood prevention function - even more so than the primary grasslands which had been destroyed and replaced by timber mono-cultures.

There are many role players who strongly disagree with this presumption.

At a presentation delivered during the "Timber Plantations: Impacts Future Visions and Global Trends" Conference, Prof Braam van Wyk mentioned that soil changes brought about by industrial timber plantations are often irreversible. "One of the often over-looked soil changes is the increase in the hydrophobic condition of the soils". The soils become hydrophobic or 'water repellant', where there is a waxy layer deposited on the sand grains which is almost impossible to remove. This means that water run of increase tremendously. It is a feature of Eucalyptus, the second worse would be wattle and then pine. Grassland is least known for this hydrophobic condition. This condition is worsened by fire, and professor van Wyk mentioned that he "hates to think what has happened to the soils after these latest plantation fires here on the Mpumalanga escarpment. Will those soils ever recover? What is the run-off going to be after the first heavy rains? Erosion? Flash Floods?"

--- During 2002, 16 727 hectares of S.A. timber plantations burnt down. This figure escalated to 30 176 hectares in 2003 due to much drier conditions. The fire risk will intensify if current dry conditions persist---

>From the above it is clear that there are vast differences with regards to views on plantation impacts. For responsible management and informed decision making to occur there should be much more dialogue between industry, environmentalists, scientists, government and other stakeholders.

Also, our local drought stricken Crocodile River (and the region's dams, which fail to deliver when they should) has made International news. Remember that the Crocodile River Catchments is heavily 'afforested' or converted to timber mono-crops. Industrial timber monocultures consume vast quantities of available water and impair water retention functions delivered by grasslands. For more information about how timber monocultures influence run-off, visit



Crocodile River runs dry
27/11/2003 14:56 - (SA)

Cobus Coetzee & Sizwe samaYende

Nelspruit - Farmers may not pump water from the Crocodile River to irrigate their crops until next week Monday.

The Crocodile River Major Irrigation Board (CRMIB) imposed the ban after the river, one of the major rivers in the area, stopped flowing along its lower reaches in Mpumalanga.

From Monday, farmers will be allowed to draw water from the river for 20 hours a week.

The CRMIB is an extension of the department of water affairs and forestry, and is responsible for the management of water in the river.

"The extreme high temperatures over the last couple of days has had a detrimental effect on the flow of the river," said CRMIB spokesperson Ronelle Putter.

This is the second season that parts of the river runs dry.

This week, the river stopped flowing along its course in the Tenbosch area east of Nelspruit, just a few kilometres from where it enters Mozambique.

Putter said the CRMIB was concerned that the river will run completely dry if there isn't enough rain before January.

The Kwena Dam along the Crocodile River dropped to 22% this week.

Other drought-stricken areas in Mpumalanga's Lowveld include the town of White River and the provincial capital Nelspruit, which fall within the Mbombela municipality.

Water usage in and around Nelspruit was restricted to 20% last week, while residents in neighboring White River have had to deal with water restrictions since February.

Mbombela council authorities have totally banned the watering of gardens and parks, as well as the use of boreholes and hosepipes.

Mbombela spokesperson Delia Oosthuizen warned that the Longmere, Klipkopje and Witklip dams would be empty by the end of January if insufficient rain falls.


The above article was received from Lori Pottinger, Director, Africa Program, International Rivers Network. Anybody interested in African Water issues should contact and asked to be put on the African Water Issues mail list.

Mr. Godsmark's presentation entitled "South African Forestry: Benefits and Risks / Challenges" and minutes of the CFI Meeting can be obtained from Nikki Meinesz,

A transcript of Professor Braam van Wyk's presentation entitled "Southern African Grasslands: Aspects of their Biodiversity, Dynamics and Management" can be obtained from

A document containing all presentations and minutes from the November 13 "Timber Plantations: Impacts, Future Visions and Global Trends" conference will be available soon from

Philip Owen