Environmental Monitoring Committee (EMC) Chairman, David Cook shares his thoughts on a variety of topics related to the work of the EMC and the construction of the Spring Grove Dam.

Monitoring by the EMC, 20 June 2012


"In line with the increased number of EMP’s now approved (9) come a greater range of issues, impacts and mitigation measures requiring our attention. This has a two-fold effect. Firstly, interest in the EMC as a communication medium and conflict resolution tool brings forth a wider range of interested parties and secondly, a much wider focus from our ECO team who are there on our behalf to ensure all EMP/ROD conditions and mitigation measures are properly discharged. Against this backdrop the performance achieved by the construction officials remains at an enviable 94%, which is one of the reasons why the recent visit by the TCTA Panel of Experts was able to assign us a clean bill of health and a rather glowing scorecard. Long may it last. The 64 000 dollar question posed in the wake of all this is what role is the EMC playing in contributing to the result? Is the EMC a mere minor concession to participative environmental management – a kind of window dressing for human rights, or is it an indispensable element in large development processes. I leave the answer to you!"

Monitoring by the EMC, 13 March 2012


"Our last EMC meeting on the 7 March 2011 will, perhaps, be remembered for the lights going down towards the end, and the heated debate around several issues where the contractor/consultant, etc. was perceived to have been negligent. That human-generated heat, if captured, could well have provided the energy for the lights to have come on again! On a more serious note it is increasingly apparent that the EMC finds itself embroiled in criticisms launched at the meeting instead of it being registered, in the first instance, in the issues and complaints register held by Katie Fenenga on site. One can even do this on the phone. Sure, the element of surprise in catching someone off-guard is a natural feature of the human condition, but when an issue enters the register it assumes a much more formal character and above all allows the ECO to follow through and subject it to official scrutiny. That’s the best way . I sincerely hope that members will use the process that has been designed for them which will allow me as Chair to bring greater professionalism to our monitoring work."

Traffic Environmental Management Plan, 9 December 2011


"In a project of this nature and scale a tension is bound to exist between the sacrifices expected of the local community hosting the development and the recipient communities - ie. that part of national society who stand to benefit long-term from the provision of precious water - on whose behalf the implementing authority, TCTA, is acting. Instruments such as the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) and the prevailing environmental legislation set out to ensure that such tensions, when translated into negative impacts, are accorded proper attention in terms of the Record of Decision (RoD) and associated Environmental Management Plans (EMP’s) by setting in place the measures necessary to mitigate these short term impacts upon the host community and the environment they live in while the construction is underway. It is a case of thinking locally but acting, perhaps altruistically, in the wider interest of South Africa and its people. Easier said than done. Here in the Enviromental Management Committee (EMC) the traffic management EMP debate rages on as an accommodation of the legitimate concerns of the host community are placed in the scale to be weighed against proposed mitigation measures. Meanwhile consequences resulting from a delay in reaching an accommodation grow evermore serious for both stakeholder blocs. Recriminatory responses are as unhelpful as are any failure to unite in a concerted effort aimed at finding a reasonable outcome; that is the challenge this EMC must overcome."


Environmental Control Team, 5 November 2011


The efficiency with which the Environmental Control (EC) team from the National Environmental Management Management Act (NEMAI) goes about its monitoring task has drawn favourable comment from a wide range of stakeholders, not simply the Enivironmental Monitoring Committee (EMC) members. Their power point presentations to the EMC are highly comprehensive and provide a clear insight as to how multi-faceted environmental impacts are being handled on the ground. For details of this consulting, please see the EMC minutes and supporting ECO reporting documents.

Traffic Environmental Management Plan, 1 September 2011


“The long awaited approval by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) of the much debated Traffic Management and Mitigation Measures Environmental Management Plan (EMP) on 15th August 2011 will be greeted with a good deal of relief by all. Of course, it comes with conditions attached, most of which are directed at keeping the safety factor firmly in the foreground. It is going to take a large slice of cooperation and goodwill on the part of everyone, especially those of us serving on the EMC, to advance this important phase of the project into reality after its baptism of fire under the scrutiny of the local community. The EMC is destined to play an important role in getting the fine tuning of the EMP in place."

Construction Site Visit, 21 August 2011


“Having gone out on site a few times to see the great gash excavated on the slopes above the river where the wall is due to be constructed, one is immediately struck by the clinical precision of the whole process. As a dyed-in-the-wool greenie I thought I would be reaching for the rulebook but I have to admit that aesthetics apart, the site is one of professional orderliness with plant and crews all working to a kind of military efficiency. Water running out below the coffer dam area is as clean as the entry point upstream and earth spillage into the surrounding veld minimal. All in all very impressive – but then as I reminded myself this is the only way to go about such a radically intrusive construction. EMC members will enjoy reflecting on the fact that as a monitoring body we are seeing the fruits of our monitoring labours.”

Meeting an Old Friend and Colleague, 15 August 2011

“I attended the on-site seminar of TCTA, BKS, NEMAI officials and the eminent “Panel of Experts” called in to cast a critical eye over the project. Who should I meet up with? None other than Dr Mike Mentis an old friend and colleague with whom I worked with in the erstwhile Natal Parks Board over thirty years ago, now a leading figure in environmental risk assessment and its related fields. In between chewing the cud over days gone by, the panel provided some very useful insights into the scientific background that informs environmental science in this modern era.”


Visit to a San Rock Art Site, 14 August 2011

“I went out on a field visit together with the Expert Panel Group to the San Cave site situated on the steep slope above Inchbrakie Falls. I couldn’t help wondering what it must of been like in that Late Stone Age period when a few San hunters took up a position in a small rock overhang with a stupendous view of the valley and the idyllic falls below, to monitor the movement of the herds of game coming off the high berg on their way down to their wintering grounds in the thornveld. And for these huntsmen to have taken the time to express themselves by painting some scenes onto the rock surfaces of the overhang – all that remains of their visit today and soon to disappear altogether. Progress comes at a price!"

Members of the Environmental Monitoring Committee (EMC), 20 July 2011

"I am very conscious of the fact that members of the EMC give of their own time to voluntarily act out the duties that the SA Constitution holds are the rights of a free society. In taking on this role a degree of altruism is necessary on the part of the participating individuals. As Chairperson I am very proud of the fact that our committee members take on and perform these duties willingly with just the right amount of critical independence while at the same time contributing to the development of the EMP’s with invaluable insights based on local knowledge. The end result will be better for this cooperative spirit."