CHAPTER NINE – Keep the Umko Running Free


Lakes and rivers are the most severely degraded systems on Earth (worse even that rainforests). And look at just how precious that fresh water is. The globe below shows three blue bubbles over the USA: The biggest one is all the water in the world (the seas, lakes, rivers, ice caps, underground water and even the water in all plants and animals – and in you!); The second bubble shows all the liquid fresh water, 99% of which is underground; The tiny third bubble below the second is the fresh water we know, in rivers and lakes. We really need to look after it better!


Read about it here:

“Keep the river running free from the mountain to the sea” – Ian Player

Our duty to save the river for our kids and grandkids

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.


Compare paddling 25km from No.1 to No.8 and 25km across Inanda dam. No 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, less-destructive alternatives to building a dam, whether to meet energy or water needs, or to reduce the impacts from floods. These solutions – from small-scale, decentralized water supply and new renewables, to large-scale 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.


Paddlers have fought to keep the Umko running free before. We need to keep that spirit alive. The UMKO TRUST was established . . .

– INSERT INFO HERE – Jacques de Rauville looking for the old documents

Geoff Caruth was on the Trust, as was Sappi/Saiccor, Dept Water Affairs, Natal Parks Board, Aliwal Shoal Divers, Umkomaas village


Before even thinking of damming the Umko we need to ensure we:

  • Fix problems in our existing dams;

  • Fix leaking pipes, reduce wastage, educate all on efficient useage and recycling, especially big users like farming;

  • Assess all available options for meeting water and energy needs before proceeding with a dam project;

  • The Commission was chaired by South Africa’s water minister Kader Asmal and consisted of twelve members from governments, industry, academia, and civil society. During its two-year lifetime, the WCD carried out the most comprehensive evaluation of large dams ever done to date. It commissioned 130 technical papers, studied seven dams and three dam-building countries in great depth, reviewed another 125 dams in less detail, carried out consultations in different parts of the world with 1,400 participants, and accepted 950 submissions from experts and the interested public. Altogether, the WCD reviewed experiences from 1,000 dams in 79 countries.



Long after you have stopped racing the Umko you may still want to paddle it. Or raft down it. Or take your grandkids down it.

Here’s a 2015 Deepdale to Hella Hella trip about to launch

158 Umko marathons between them – and two grandkids along for the ride!

Deepdale trip 2015

Go and explore sections you’ve not paddled on before:

Impendle to Lundy’s Hill

Lundy’s to Deepdale

Deepdale to Hella Hella


Dams bring more problems than they solve. They flood large areas, force people to relocate, threaten freshwater biodiversity, disrupt subsistence fisheries, drown our beloved rapids and leave rivers dry – substantially affecting the ecosystem. America is now undoing the damage they caused by starting to remove dams2. However, the developing countries that are planning to build dams should not repeat the mistakes developed countries made. Instead of building dams that provide quick fixes without really solving problems, they instead invite newer problems. Developing countries should be looking to invest in reducing wastage, looking after wetlands, small water schemes, plus true energy renewables like wind and solar (as coal and nuclear energy also uses huge amounts of water).

“The stakes are high, because healthy rivers, like all intact ecosystems, are priceless. The alternative, quite simply, is a persistent legacy of human and environmental destruction.”

Let’s keep the Umko running free from the mountains to the sea.

For our grandkids.




Data from Alex de Sherbinin (CIESIN, University of Colorado), and Bernhard Lehner (Department of Geography, McGill University.

2. The United States, whose 5,500 large dams make it one of the most dammed countries in the world, has stopped building large dams, and is now spending great amounts of money trying to fix the problems created by existing dams. Many US communities are revitalizing their rivers by taking down or otherwise “decommissioning” dams that are no longer safe or serving a justifiable purpose. Over the past decade hundreds of dams have been removed from US rivers, opening up habitat for fisheries, restoring healthier water flows, improving water quality, and returning aquatic life to rivers.

Author: bewilderbeast

It's about life, marriage, raising kids, paddling rivers, travel in Africa . . . re-posting thoughts written over decades - at random, I'm afraid.

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