Be Prepared for Life

Activity Kit Three:
"Water for Life"

Part 3. How to care for water


By now you will know something of the value of clean water in South Africa and be less inclined to pollute it or waste it. We have already looked at the use and abuse of water in Kit 1: Project 7, Kit 1: Project 8 and Kit 3: Project 6. Clean water supplies depend on the health of the river and its banks as well. Plants on the river bank help to filter water and keep it clean. Caring for wetlands is part of caring for water.

Project 9: Caring for your stream

  1. Visit a stream. Study the water channels. Where does the water flow quickly? Are there any signs of steep banks collapsing into the stream. If possible ask a nature conservation official from your municipality to advise you on where stream banks need to be protected.
  2. Collect cuttings of natural vegetation from a nearby area that has sufficient natural growth. Cuttings should be made with a sharp knife at a 45 degree angle, and be about 30 cm long. Plant the cuttings in the river bank, so that 20 cm of the cutting is exposed and the butt end is in permanently damp soil.
    [Roots of cuttings stabilise banks and prevent erosion.]
  3. Where the bank is being undercut and collapsing into the stream it may be necessary to build a rip-rap. Add rocks to the base of the eroding bank so that they slope gently up to above the normal flood level.
    The bank above the rocks will crumble into a more natural contour which can be stabilised with vegetation later.

  4. Rocks can be used as deflectors to push the water flow away from the banks. You will need to use large rocks on the point of the deflector. This will protect the banks and provide a hiding and resting place for fish.
    The deflectors should not be more than a few centimeters above normal water level so that it allows flood water to flow over it. This prevents debris from collecting on the deflector at flood time and damaging the banks.
  5. Dead trees can be wired alongside eroding banks to protect them. Conifers are particularly useful for these tree revetments. The trees are wired to logs buried in the banks for stability in flood seasons. The trees protect the bank long enough for vegetation to stabilise the area.
  6. Many streams are seasonal. The flood scours the stream bed leaving it rocky - with very little soil for plants to establish themselves in. By building barriers to slow the water flow and trap sediments, a silt bed can be formed and planted with stream bank vegetation. The barrier can be made of stones to just above normal water level or a fence of weldmesh, reinforced with metal stakes hammered 60 cm into the bed of the stream. The weldmesh barrier should be low, just high enough to catch debris. Protect the upstream side of the weldmesh barrier with small stones heaped against it.
  7. Visit your barriers and bank deflectors and revetments several times a year to repair any damage caused by floods.


There are over 50 species of fish in our rivers. Two thirds of these are indigenous and the rest are introduced species. One third of our indigenous fish are threatened by damage to their habitat- [pollution, dam construction, canalization, alien vegetation] - and alien fish feeding on them. Write to the Cape Dept. of Nature and Environmental conservation for a copy of Fresh Water Fish of the Cape, Cape Conservation Series 5, 1984.

Project 10: The fish in your own stream

  1. Capture a sample of the fish in your stream. Use the D - net [see Project 4]
    Most South African indigenous fish are small.
  2. Set up a small tank for each type of fish. Try to duplicate the natural conditions in each tank. [See illustration for making a small tank out of a plastic bag and cardboard box].
  3. Aerate the water with a pump.
    Hold an exhibition of live fish but return them to the stream two weeks later.
  4. If you have plenty of larger fish in your local waters, apply for a permit to catch fish.
  5. Make your own fishing rod. Throw the live fish you catch back into the water after measuring them so that you do not deplete the breeding stock in the river.
    The fun is in being able to catch the fish not watching them die as they have an important role to play controlling insects breeding in the river.
  6. Find out which fish are rare or threatened in your area.
    You could get help by contacting your nearest Department of Nature Conservation or Agriculture and Forestry Dept. They should be able to advise you on the names of your local river fish.

Project 6: The Water Boiler

  1. When larger quantities of water are needed than can be supplied in a hurry by a small family sand filter the community can build a larger sand filter [see Project 2 in a water tank] or boil water. This technique could be used on survival hikes when water quality is suspect.
  2. When there is more time available a water boiler can be constructed as part of a camp stove. The tap should be brazed in at low level.
  3. Pure hot water will be available once the drum has boiled. Don't forget to leave a vent for the steam to escape, or your boiler will be very dangerous!

Project 11: Water care near home

  1. How clean is your stream? Plan a survey of the litter along your stream. Who is responsible for this litter? Contact your local municipality and ask for their support in organising a stream clean up. Make sure that your hands and feet are properly protected against glass [and Bilharzia?]

    Take "before and after" photographs and display them for a week in the shop window of the chemist who develops your photographs.

  2. Conduct a survey of water weeds and aliens in your stream. Who is responsible for controlling these? The only way to get rid of most of them is to pull them out of the stream and bury them in a deep pit. Contact your local municipality and ask for their support in organising a stream clearing operation.
  3. Explore a local wetland in your area [See Project 12]. Map it and make a list of all the birds and animals that can be found in this area.
    Organise scout-guided trails to see the birds and animals of your wetland.
  4. Set up an aquarium tank with local indigenous fish and water insects in a local school or library to make people aware of the importance of river life.
    Prepare life cycle diagrams so that these animals can be recognised at all stages.
  5. Start a long term project to monitor the changes to your natural wetland or river systems over several years. [See Project 4].

When water is clean and safe and there is enough of it for leisure activities, a host of fun activities become possible. Try some of these activities out with your patrol - in clean, safe water!

Project 12: Water for fun

  1. Organise a stream walk.
    Wear old clothes and shoes that can get wet. [Take spare dry clothes as well.]
    Walk next to and in the streambed. Find a quiet place.
    Use homemade water scopes to study stream life.
    Sit, some distance apart, in the stream.
    Notice the life in the water around you. Lie down in the water. Crawl through the stream. Swim through the deep pools.
    Wear goggles and explore the water from inside the stream.
  2. Find a mud flat in an estuary.
    Make a mud slide. Use it for sliding on.
    Dig in the mud for prawns and animal life. Return them to the river. Swim to clean off the mud.
  1. Find a stream tumbling gently over rapids. Slither your way feet first down into the pools below.
    Use a tube to cushion your passage. Use air beds [lilo's] or linked tubes to drift slowly down the stream or over a vlei.
    Use goggles to view the life beneath the surface.
  2. Organise a water floater competition.
    Design and build rafts out of anything. Plastic bags, drums, wood and rope.
    Fit sails where possible and see whose raft can follow a course around the vlei.

Water is life
Collect it, clean it, care for it, enjoy it!
Earth caring action is water action

In our next kit
we will learn about

© Copyright 1991 - 1994
Dr Frank Opie for the South African Scout Association