Silt slowly burying town river

ONCE home to a formidable body of water, the Sigatoka River is now a mere shadow of its former self, thanks to human intervention and climate change.

Today, one can find children doing the unimaginable — playing rugby and soccer in the middle of the waterway during low tide on sandbanks popping out of the river.

Pioneering Sigatoka resident Robert Kennedy said the level of silt and surfacing of sand banks during low tide was unprecedented.

River traffic has been scaled down with shallow hulled boats operating only at high tide in severely restricted areas.

Sigatoka’s biggest calendar event — the annual bilibili race — was cancelled for the first time in its 32-year history simply because the river was too shallow to safely hold the regatta.

Mr Kennedy said apart from the economic loss of not holding the Coral Coast’s biggest calendar event, the environmental impact of increasing sedimentation and shallowing of the waterway was a cause for serious concern.

“We have never seen anything like this, ever, and God help us if we get torrential rainfall over a short period of time because the Sigatoka Valley is a flood-prone area,” he said.

Sigatoka River Safari managing director and former special administrator Jay Whyte said the high level of silt and sedimentation could be attributed to gravel extraction work carried out near Keiyasi Village.

Speaking in Parliament in May this year, Agriculture Minister Inia Seruiratu said plans to dredge the Sigatoka River had been put on hold because of Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston. However, he said dredging works would be conducted soon on 3.5km of the waterway from the river mouth to near the town area and Government hoped to extract about 1.3 million cubic tonnes of silt.

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