PBS - Bill Moyer Reports: Earth on Edge, Freshwater Ecosystems

Earth on Edge, Freshwater Ecosystems
Bill Moyer Reports

In a developing country . . . when you talk about taking water away, you're talking about having a large impact on economic growth, on job creation, on our ability to fight poverty, and so on.
— Brian Van Wilgen, South African ecologist

South Africa is running out of water. All of South Africa draws its water from rivers that flow out of just a few mountain ranges. Sparse rainfall on the mountains used to be channeled through rivers and streams to the lowlands. Before European colonists arrived, grasslands and fynbos vegetation, unique to the Cape of Good Hope, dominated lowland regions. But when the colonists arrived, preferring the forested landscapes of home, they planted non-native trees, mostly pine and eucalyptus, which have now invaded the mountainous regions and are soaking up billions of gallons of water that once filled streambeds. Earth on Edge introduces us to the surprising sight of environmentalists with chainsaws — people who are trained by the government to cut down the invasive species and restore the precious water that flows from the mountains to the rivers. But some estimate it will cost 30 million rand (roughly US $238.5 million) per year for 20 years to keep the water flowing. Current freshwater restoration projects in many parts of the world cost billions of dollars each, the price to restore what would be free if we had only used it sustainably.

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