R7.3bn water project approved

4 December 2008

The South African Cabinet has approved the implementation of the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, expected to cost R7.3-billion, in order to ensure the water security of Gauteng and the rest of the Vaal River water supply area.

“This project, subject to the conclusion of a protocol with the government of Lesotho, will include construction of the Polihali Dam in Lesotho and is a strategic intervention to ensure the water security of Gauteng and the rest of the Vaal River water supply area in the most cost effective manner,” Water and Forestry Minister Lindiwe Hendricks told journalists in Pretoria this week.

According to Hendricks, a motivating factor behind the decision to implement the project was that it had a low energy requirement in that water can be transferred under gravity to South Africa without any pumping – unlike the Tugela option, which is energy intensive as water must be pumped from the Thukela River over the escarpment.

The construction of this dam and other infrastructure will take place alongside water conservation measures in the Vaal, such as improving water quality and curbing illegal water use.

“A well structured water conservation and water demand management programme will also be implemented in the Vaal area with a focus on water losses in the system as well as in individual households, with a target to reduce losses by 15%,” she said. “It will start before the middle of 2009 with completion by mid-2013.”

‘Most important’ water source

The Vaal River system is considered the most important water resource in South Africa as it supplies water to 60% of the country’s economy and to 45% of its population.

The whole of Gauteng and Northern Cape, mines and industries on the Mpumalanga Highveld, the bulk of Eskom’s coal-fired power stations on the Western Mpumalanga Highveld, the coal-to-liquid facilities on the coal-fields of the Highveld, North-West and Free State goldfields, and agricultural users in the Gauteng, North-West, Free State and Northern Cape provinces all depend on the water system.

“Gauteng and adjacent urban areas continue to experience rapid growth in water demand and it is projected that Gauteng could increase its water requirements by more than 30% in the next twenty years,” said Hendricks.

She added that significant intervention measures were necessary to ensure sufficient water, of the required quality, was made available to support community and industrial water needs, including associated energy generation, and agriculture.

Power generation, international cooperation

Furthermore the existing hydro-power generation capacity of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase 1 can also be increased, with the project bringing substantial benefits to Lesotho as well as the region, as it will lead to decreased carbon emissions.

“We have been in discussions with the government of Lesotho who are strongly in favour of the project,” Hendricks said.

Countries like Namibia and Botswana form part of the Vaal River system, and have already had been notified of the joint intention of South Africa and Lesotho regarding the project, and will be kept abreast of further developments.

“The next steps would require the development of a detailed project implementation plan, to be approved by both countries, and the necessary Protocols between the countries concluded,” she said. “Like with Phase 1 the project would be funded off-budget, that is funds would be borrowed from capital markets.”

SAinfo reporter

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