16-18 February 2023

Dusi organisers keep a close eye on water levels and quality

With less than a week to go to the 71st edition of the MyLife Dusi Canoe Marathon the race organisers are closely monitoring the water levels and water quality in the uMsindusi and uMngeni rivers ahead of the start of the three day classic from Thursday 17 to Saturday 19 February.
 
For the first time in eighteen years all the dams in river system are spilling, leaving the rivers running at high water levels, a sign that race committee head Shane le Breton says has been responsible for one of the biggest race entries in recent years as paddler eagerly look forward to enjoying full rivers between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.
 
“It will be a full Dusi, which we haven’t had for a long time,” said le Breton. “It was a milestone day when Albert Falls dam started to spill a few weeks ago, and now every dam in the system is full and spilling which is clearly exciting the paddlers.”
 
Le Breton said that the race would enjoy the usual release from Henley dam above Pietermaritzburg to ensure a good water level for the first stage to Dusi Bridge, after which water spilling from Nagle dam and Inanda dam will guarantee full rivers all the way to Durban.
 
“Inanda dam is spilling at around 30 cumecs (cubic metres per second) so the final stage into Durban will be superb paddling,” he said, adding that rain was expected in the run-up to the race which will may add to the levels in the rivers on the days of the race.
 
Le Breton added that the race adopts a flexible day-by-day approach to organising each stage designed to ensure the safety of every paddler entered.
 
“If rains push up the river significantly we will consider making sections of the river and certain rapids and obstacles compulsory portages, without wanting to take away from the excitement and challenge of paddling on a full river,” said le Breton.
 
“The MyLife Dusi has always had a core ethos of paddling each stage of the river as you find it on the day of the race, whether it is very low or very full,” said le Breton. “The one non-negotiable however is paddler safety, and if our extended group feels that any obstacle is dangerous we can make that a compulsory portage.”
 
Le Breton added that the same philosophy of putting paddler safety first was driving the close attention they are paying to the E.coli levels in the river.
 
“The E.coli levels in the river are an issue, but largely restricted to the urban areas of Pietermaritzburg and Durban,” said le Breton. “E.coli pollution has been a factor in the Dusi since the 1980s, and the so-called “Dusi Guts” is the consequence for some paddlers.
 
“We have been working very closely with the Msindusi Municipality in recent years and we have enjoyed their buy-in and the strong support of the mayor personally. In the past month there are numerous infrastructure issues that have been addressed, with broken or missing pipes replaced and sewer leaks repaired, which has helped a lot.
 
“The nature of E.coli pollution means that the urban E.coli levels drop significantly, and by the time a paddler gets to the Campbell’s Farm bridge and Tekwaan rapid fifteen kilometres into the race the E.coli die-off is very high and the regular tests we do show that the E.coli levels are significantly lower there,” he added.
 
The race has always adopted an on open-book policy on the E.coli levels in the river and the results of the weekly tests done by the city and the Dusi uMngeni Conservation Trusty (DUCT) are published on the race website to enable paddlers and other recreational water users of Camps Drift to make informed decisions.
 
While the middle sections of the three day marathon are generally raced on cleaner water, the lower uMngeni has become a cause for concern due to the E.coli levels below Five Fingers Rapid where inflows from Pinetown, kwaDabeka and Inanda become an issue.
 
“We have reached out to the eThekwini municipality on numerous occasions hoping to set up systems similar to ones used successfully in Pietermaritzburg to quickly identify problems and remedy them,” said le Breton.
 
Le Breton scotched rumours that the race would be cancelled because of the water quality issues and stressed that he and his committee would make informed decisions based on the water levels and the latest water quality readings before each stage of the race.
 
“The MyLife Dusi is an iconic South African sporting event and it will go ahead,” he said. “The paddlers are all fully aware of the reality of the impact of rains on the water levels and quality and they plan accordingly.
 
“The race founder, the legendary conservationist Dr Ian Player, used to say that rivers are a reflection on the overall state of our society and they need to receive special care and attention, not just in the build-up to the Dusi but year-round”, he added.