The Brandfontein road (Provincial Proclaimed Divisional Road 1203) within the Overberg District Municipality (ODM), which traverses the Agulhas National Park (ANP), has been temporarily closed for traffic for the last couple of weeks. The closure of the road resulted from the flooding of approximately 350 metres of the road after a record rainfall since the beginning of 2021 in the southern Overberg area on the Agulhas Plain. This year to date more than 844mm rain has been recorded. Rainfall like this has not been recorded in more than 50 years. The average annual rainfall for the area is around 500mm. Without elaborating on the matter, it can be stated that during April and May 2021 the town of Struisbaai was flooded with dozens of houses under water and roads closed due to flooding. The provincial tarred road between Struisbaai and Bredasdorp was closed several times, sometimes for days on end, due to flooding and the provincial dirt road between Struisbaai and Elim was not negotiable for several weeks due to flooding. To date there are still large areas covered in standing water, which can easily be observed on either sides of the Struisbaai road from Bredasdorp and on the Elim road from Struisbaai. This year had an exceptional heavy rainfall season and the provincial and district municipal authorities were, and still are, constantly addressing these challenges, which at certain times bordered on the extent of disaster.
The Brandfontein road is next to the Soutpan (salt pan), which is within the ANP. The ANP is under the jurisdiction and managed by South African National Parks (SANParks) under the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (Act 57 of 2003). The Soutpan is a so-called endorheic depression, which is a depression in the landscape that accumulates water, but has no outlet. It is a drainage basin that normally retains water and allows no outflow to other external bodies of water, such as rivers or oceans, but drainage converges instead into lakes or swamps, permanent or seasonal, that equilibrate through evaporation. With the record rains during this year the area filled with water more than any recalling in human memory for the past 50 years and, furthermore, evaporation is not taking away enough water as was the case normally during all previous normal rainy seasons for more than fifty years. Other nearby water and wetland systems, like the Nuwejaars River and the Soetendalsvlei, also occasionally overflowed their banks during the course of the last few months that caused even more water flowing into this endorheic depression with no outlet to the sea or a river. With that much water the Soutpan pushed the excess water into the surrounding marshland, which is a very large flat wetland area with nowhere else for the water to go but rising the water level over the Soutpan and surrounding marshland until it equalises all at the same level. This phenomenon happens every year, especially during years within higher rainfall periods when the annual rainfall will be as high as 600mm. Almost every year, as a result of the higher water level in the Soutpan and surrounding marshland, the Brandfontein road floods for a few days, mostly a day or two, until the water level declines again as a result of evaporation. However, this year is an exception on the normal pattern as a result of the extremely high rainfall and wet weather that did not encourage evaporation. As a matter of interest it can be mentioned that the most well-known endorheic depression in the world is probably the Dead Sea and the largest is the Caspian Sea.
Considerations and options
With the water level as it is at this stage, and the fact that it cannot be manipulated or changed, neither the ODM nor SANParks is in a position to address the matter of the closed Brandfontein road immediately. Maintenance work on the road can only be addressed after the water level has declined to the extent that a proper investigation can be done to determine the extent of damage on the road and to do informed planning with regards to restoring accessibility and possible prevention upgrading to address similar scenarios that might occur in future timeously. Furthermore, in order to get machinery into the area to rectify the damage on the road, the water level must also decline to a level that actual work on the road is in reality possible.
For the interim period Provincial Proclaimed Minor Road 4159, which traverses Bergplaas and Springfield that are both situated within ANP, will give access to residents and landowners along the Brandfontein road. This access road must however be seen as a temporary emergency bypass. The necessary directional signage to be erected within the next week.
It is important to note that all alternatives are considered in order to alleviate the immediate impact and work towards a sustainable and acceptable long-term solution. Both the ODM and SANParks will be guided by applicable environmental legislation, and it must be stated that alternative routes or structures proposed will require Environmental Authorisation.
The ODM and SANParks celebrate a history of working well together and supporting each other on numerous projects and challenges in the past. It is the intention of both parties to continue doing so in order to find an amicable solution for this challenge, but also for any other opportunities or challenges that might emerge in future. The ODM and SANParks are committed to working together and supporting each other for the greater good of all the people of the Overberg and South Africa.
Released by ODM and SANParks on 15 October 2021.
Enquiries can be directed to:
Mr Mannie van Eeden (ODM) at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr Francois Kotze (ODM) at email@example.com
Mr Johan Taljaard (SANParks) at firstname.lastname@example.orgLast published 15 October 2021