We need not be reminded of the damaging rains of April 2022, and the devastation left in their wake. Closest to home, our Guineafowl Dam was the hardest hit. The dam burst its walls, and our forests were also damaged. Two years later, and the dam has steadily been rebuilt. But, how did we do it? We sat down with Technical Manager Nicky Misra and Environmental Manager Ayanda Duma as they shared the journey of…after the storm. 

“Overwhelming.”

That is how Nicky describes the feeling of seeing the destroyed dam. “Our financial year had just started, and some of our projects were already in motion. These had to be stopped, so we could survey the extent of the damage caused by the floods.” He recalls the collapsed dam walls, spillway and extensive scouring.

Ayanda agrees, mentioning that her first thought was for the marine life in the dam. “I knew that we needed to get in, and see what we could save. At the time, the water had drained to around knee-height, so we took buckets and netting to the dam,” she remembers. “We filled them with the fish and crabs we could save, and relocated them to Rainbird and Weaver.”

It took the team two weeks to compile a report on the damages sustained to our dams and forests. The Cormorant Dam, which is below the Guineafowl on the corner of Ladlau Drive and Milkwood Way, also beached. A sewer line under the Guineafowl Dam was also damaged, which had to be speedily remedied and later relocated.

“When we began looking to the future, we knew we had two choices,” Nicky says. “We could either reinstate the dam as it was, or completely reconstruct to prevent it from bursting again. If we were to reconstruct, then we needed to ensure the dam was well protected.”

The old dam was engineered for a 1-in-20 year stormwater event. The team considered rapidly changing weather patterns and foresaw the reconstructed dam should be prepared for a 1-in-100 stormwater event. “Essentially, we were going to improve the dam’s attenuation capacity. So, build a deeper, larger dam,” Nicky shares.

Upstream, the Mngeni Forest took quite a beating, Ayanda recollects. “The force of the water during the floods had caused our fence line to fall. This, coupled with the siltation from the dam left Mngeni in a dire state.”

Considering the forest is one of the province’s protected swamp forests, attending to it was a delicate matter for the environmental team. “Mngeni Forest is one of the most special things about Simbithi,” Ayanda smiles. “Similar to the dam discussion, we had two paths we could follow; either intervene and fix the forest, or allow nature to take its course.”

The Department of Environmental Affairs required that a study be undertaken to evaluate the magnitude of the forest’s destruction. Once this was complete, Ayanda and the environmental team chose to follow a three-pronged approach to restoring the forest. “In some areas, we raised the forest pathways to allow for removal of silt. In others closer to water sources, we allowed the excess sand to flow naturally. And, in certain spots, we simply left the forest as is, permitting nature to naturally heal itself.”

Nature did, indeed, have her way, even at the Guineafowl Dam. For a season, Little Bee Eaters nested on the dam’s bank. “That was a beautiful sight,” Ayanda says.

Almost two years to the day, the restoration of both entities is nearing a satisfying end.

The base of the new dam is layered with G5, which stabilises its establishment. Additionally, a new high density polyethylene (HDPE) lining was used to prevent issues with seepage. Snags were completed in early April, and at the time of writing, the team was almost ready to drop the shade cloth along Ladlau Drive.

The forest is coming along well, too, with encouraging recovery taking place. “The areas where we did not intervene are taking a bit longer to recover, but the forest is healthy. We expect that we will see full restoration within the next five to ten years.”

Challenges aside, the team is relieved to be at the end of these major projects. Nicky, in particular, thinks back to the rains pursuant to the initial flood. “We pushed through these, by trenching diversions away from the construction area. Thankfully, this worked.”

Nicky and Ayanda mention the collaboration between the two departments, which speaks directly to our strategic initiative of integration. “I’m proud of Nicky,” Ayanda gently bumps her colleague’s shoulder. “This was a beautiful, big project and to have witnessed it…from mounds of sand and destruction to a brand new dam, wow. That’s something.” She adds that the environmental team attempted a new technique on the dam’s banks. “We planted up with a selection of wild grasses similar to what we find in our grasslands, to densify the area. I cannot wait to see what it looks like in spring, when everything begins to bloom.”

“Watching this vision come to fruition is a proud moment,” Nicky affirms. “This is our first one-in-a-hundred dam on Simbithi, which is a pivotal point.”

“The learnings we have taken from this period, specifically with saving a protected space and restoring it, are valuable to our team,” Ayanda agrees. “In a way, it’s a lovely metaphor for life. Something, or someone, can be completely destroyed but there is always a way to rebuild. As we did with the dam, you could reconstruct and improve. Or, as we did in the forest…you could just rest and allow yourself to recover.”