Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase 2

Lesotho Highlands Water Project


LHWP Phase 2 2This year sees the start of Phase Two of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.  More than a decade after the completion of Phase One, the green light is back on and it’s all systems go.

Clarens and the Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority, having played a key role in Phase One of the Project, have no part in Phase Two.  The entire process of Phase Two will be confined to Lesotho.  The objective of this phase is to radically increase the flow of water through the transfer tunnel by constructing a new dam in the Lesotho water catchment.  As we all know, this current of water flows right under our valley and emerges from the tunnel just north of Clarens, where it joins the AshRiver.  At the completion of Phase Two there will be a considerable increase in the volume of water emerging at the Ash River Outfall, but the structures completed in Phase One are designed to cater for this increase.

Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase One

Nearly three decades have passed since the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Treaty was signed.  On that day in 1986 agreement was reached that a significant amount of water would be diverted to the north via an underground tunnel into South Africa to supplement the inadequate supplies in the Vaal catchment.

LHWP Phase 2 3Three dams, the Katse, Meula and Mohale, were constructed during Phase One, together with connecting tunnels leading out of Lesotho under the Caledon River and into the Ash River, part of the Vaal catchment system.  An underground hydroelectric power station was also built at the Mohale Dam, providing for the electicity needs of Lesotho.

By the late 1990s water delivery to Gauteng had begun – the culmination of years of preparation, design and construction since the Project’s inception in 1986.

But that wasn’t when it all started.  It had a much earlier beginning.

The Early Years

Sixty years ago a new idea was being tossed about.  Ninham Shand, considered to have been the leading water engineer in southern Africa at the time, had advised government bodies that water would become a major factor in the country’s future politics.  Lesotho (Basutoland in those days) was a poor country with few commercial or agricultural prospects, and its British officials resident in Maseru were considering water as a viable commodity for export to South Africa.  In some quarters on the South African side an abiding resentment continued towards the British for declaring Basutoland a British Protectorate during the nineteenth century.  This in effect had placed South Africa’s key water catchment under the control of another government.

Investigations into harnessing this water for diversion to South Africa got underway in the early 1950s.  Ninham Shand had been appointed and an experimentation area was identified in northern Basotoland in the area known as Oxbow.  Access to the Highlands of Basutoland in the early days was by horseback.  Some tracks had been cut for four-wheel drive vehicles, but these were few and often dangerous.  The early investigations became known as the Oxbow Scheme, although the surveys were not limited to the Oxbow area.

The Oxbow Scheme was initially overseen by Graeme Walker of the Bloemfontein office, but later Ninham Shand opened an office at Oxbow House in Maseru, and additional engineers, including other firms, became involved in more extensive surveys.  Several feasibility reports were published over a couple of decades, by Ninham Shand and other consulting engineers, but by the early 1970s it appeared that nothing would come of it.

The considerable cost of the proposed project was a delaying factor, but the bigger factor was a political one.  A growing hostility had developed between the two governments.  Basutoland had become an independent country, Lesotho, and accusations were being cast both ways across the border.  Lesotho was understandably affronted by South Africa’s apartheid policies, and South Africa claimed that Lesotho was harbouring ANC terrorists.  South Africa’s biggest fear was its becoming dependent on a water supply that could be tampered with by a hostile neighbour.  Another factor, very specific to the proposed water project, was that there was consistent failure to reach agreement on proposed royalties that would be paid by South Africa to Lesotho for each cubic meter of water transferred.

Finally, in the early 1980s, with the help of several devastating droughts that had threatened to cripple the industrialised Johannesburg area, the two governments sat down to talk.  Ninham Shand had been right – water would dictate the politics.

LHWP Phase 2 4


Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase Two

The initial stages of Phase Two will be committed to the laying out of infrastructure necessary to do the construction work.  Once that stage has been completed, construction of the new dam and tunnel will begin.  But that is still a long way off.

An underground tunnel will connect the new dam to the Katse Dam.  The amount of water that flows through the existing tunnel will increase dramatically at the end of the Phase.  In the original LHWP plans, during Phase Two a second tunnel was to be built running parallel to the first tunnel.  This has been put on hold.  The projected water requirement in industrialised Gauteng has dropped.  While there is an ever increasing demand for water, the gradient of the increase is projected to be less significant than originally anticipated.  The existing tunnel, at present running at only half capacity, can easily carry the increased water volume of the new dam.

Clarens News, in liaison with others where necessary, will at intervals bring you updates on Phase Two of the Project.


Mary WalkerArticle and research by Mary Walker

Clarens News: March 2014




Further Reading

Launch of Lesotho Highlands Water Project- Phase 2  (Clarens News: May 2014.  Article by Mary Walker)

Water – Lesotho Highlands Water Project (Clarens News: September 2013.  Background on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, with reference to the impact of this project on Clarens)

Self Drive – Ash River Outfall Drive  (Clarens News: April 2014) Map and information.

Self drive: Clarens to Katse Dam  (Clarens News: March 2014.) Article by Rod and Rose Smart on their Katse experience – with tips on driving in Lesotho.)

Katse Dam  (General information on Katse Dam, Tours to Katse Dam from Clarens, and the Katse Botanical Gardens.)