Two months ago, on 27 March 2014, the South African and Lesotho Governments met for a sod-turning ceremony. It was the official launch of the long-awaited Phase Two of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
Phase One of the Project has been fully operational since 2004, with over 2 million cubic meters of water being transferred daily from Lesotho to South Africa via the Trans Caledon Tunnel, which runs under the Clarens Valley and emerges just north of Clarens at the Ash River Outfall adjacent to the R712 route to Bethlehem.
The objective of the Project is to supplement water supplies to South Africa’s industrial heartland of Gauteng. South Africa’s biggest river, the Orange (or Senqu in Lesotho), has its source in the Maluti Mountains and flows west out of Lesotho and across the arid central and western regions of South Africa to the Atlantic Ocean, thus carrying vital water supplies away from the area where it is most needed. One major drought in the Vaal catchment area, even with Phase One fully operational, could severely impact on water availability in the Gauteng region. Eskom alone uses the equivalent of over 40% of the water volume transferred from Lesotho in any given period.
A massive new dam, the Polihali, will be built to augment the flow of water to South Africa, while a new underground ‘drill and blast’ tunnel will link the new dam to the Katse Dam. The Project Treaty identifies two distinct systems in terms of its implementation, one being the delivery of water to South Africa, the other being the delivery of benefits to Lesotho. Key to these is hydropower generation. Other benefits to Lesotho include an increased urban water supply, as well as additional and upgraded infrastructures in the form of bridges, roads and telecommunications, to name a few.
There are inevitable down-sides to the project as well. The displacement of communities is a disturbing but unavoidable consequence of major water reservoir developments worldwide, and measures need to be taken to ensure that adequate compensation is delivered. There are growing concerns across the globe about the risk of reservoir-triggered earthquakes, and this science is not without controversy. And there is always an impact environmentally, despite mitigations.
As the initial stages of Phase Two of the Project get under way, led by the project management unit assembled during 2013, there will be many engineering outfits advancing their expressions of interest in the construction design, awaiting their opportunity to respond to tenders, and anticipating being a part of what has become an internationally acclaimed and award winning engineering venture.
Launch of Lesotho Highlands Water Project- Phase 2 (Clarens News: May 2014. Article by Mary Walker)
Lesotho Highlands Water Project – Phase 2 (Clarens News: March 2014. Article by Mary Walker with historical insight into building of Phase 1)
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.)