Residents near River Ethiope popularly called â€˜Onukwu Riverâ€™ in Umutu and Umuaja communities, Ukwuani Local Government Area of Delta State are worried over ongoing commercial dredging activities in the communities.
They claimed that the development had polluted the only source of water in their communities.
Our correspondent who visited the site of the dredging in the communities observed the claim of the residents.
Speaking to our correspondent, the communities called on the Federal Government to urgently come to their aid and save communities and prevent Umuaja recreational centre from being washed away.
One of the residents, Mr Johnson ijeh, stated that the dredgers continued in their activities despite efforts to stop them.
He said, â€œApart from the danger it poses to most of the houses around the area and the implication on ecology in future, the water is polluted and the aquatic life is affected. This is the only source of water in our village. As a result of dragging, the water is contaminated yet people are still drinking it.
â€œThe river is called River Ethiope, but we call it â€œOnukwu River.â€ This is the source of the River Ethiope and the continuous dredging of the river is currently denying the community of recreational activities.
â€œAs you can see, the colour of the river turns blue during and after dredging. Besides, the water is clean such that the communities believe that it is better than a borehole. There are about five dredging points taking place daily on the Umutu axis alone and if this is allowed to continue, I am afraid the impact would be huge.â€™â€™
Another resident, Mrs Angela Chukwudi, said that activities of draggers had been ongoing for over six years.
She said, â€œFor me and my family we are no longer going to the river. We fetch water from church boreholes and those who cannot buy water from private boreholes have no option than resort to the contaminated river. A gallon of 20 litres of water is sold between N20 to N50. How many gallons will one consume on a daily basis? We do have big fish in the river and many of the fishes have died.â€™â€™
The former Special Assistant (Technical) to the state Ministry of Water Resources Development, and a consultant on water supply to the Federal Government, Niger Delta Development Commission and the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, Sylvester Oru, said the dredging activities would deplete soil formation from the soil surface.
He stated that such a situation would lead to a sudden collapse of houses around the area because the underlay had been removed.
Oru said, â€œThis issue borders on the River Ethiope source. It is also an environmental issue but we are concerned more on how it affects the hydrogeology which is really critical. The river began as an artisan and natural spring water coming from a source that flows down the slope as a river to connect with the Atlantic Ocean. The water being collected as underground reservoirs on bedrock of thick layers of clay and stones that donâ€™t allow the water to penetrate below it gave birth to River Ethiope, Ughelli River, Ossisa River and others.
â€œNow, when the dredgers move to this location which is the source of the river, and as they mine the sands and stones, the base is washed off. If they begin to do dredging there, they will deplete the sand formation from the subsurface at great pressure. This will led to the demolition of the artisan spring and those living in the areas around Umutu and umuaja are sitting on a time bomb.
â€œThis is because the soil that rests on the impervious formation has been sucked away by the dredgers. What we call subsidence will occur as the dredgers suck away the weak sand from beneath the community land formation. The community may not realise it now because it will take place gradually, then over a period of time, there will be sudden collapse.
â€œThey donâ€™t do dredging around river sources, if they go down stream, far down about 10 kilometers from the river source, it has no serious consequence as it will open up the water ways.â€™â€™
Oru stated that impacting the source of the river was delicate as the river could shift and one could imagine the disaster if the situation was allowed in both communities.
He advised the dredgers to stop immediately, insisting that dredging river source was unacceptable because of the danger it posed to the people and the ecology itself.
Contacted for his comment on the issue, the state Commissioner for Environment, Mr Chris Onogba, on Thursday promised to visit the site in two daysâ€™ time so that the government could take it up from there.