SA, Lesotho start phase two of mega water project

Phase two of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project will benefit 6 of South Africa’s nine provinces.

President Jacob Zuma with King Letsie III inspect Polihali Dam Phase II. (Image: GovZA)

Brand South Africa reporter

South Africa and Lesotho have launched the R15.5-billion second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which will generate hydro-electric power for Lesotho while increasing the volume of water transferred to South Africa from the current 10-billion to about 15-billion cubic metres a year.

The first phase of the project – comprising a series of dams, hydropower stations and tunnels between South Africa and mountainous, landlocked Lesotho – was funded by the World Bank and completed in 2004.

Speaking at a sod-turning ceremony in the Mokhotlong district of Lesotho on Thursday, South African President Jacob Zuma said the project “represents a win-win mechanism, as it provides needed water to South Africa and creates an opportunity for the required infrastructure development and energy generation in Lesotho”.

Among the benefits for Lesotho was the generation of revenue from water royalties and the sale of electricity. According to the Department of Water Affairs, in 2010, when more than 8.3-billion cubic metres of water was transferred to South Africa, Lesotho received R3-million in royalties and R638-million from the sale of electricity generated at the Muela hydropower station.

The concrete arch Katse Dam in Lesotho. (Image: World Bank)

Besides this, Zuma said, infrastructure development during the project’s first phase had included 102 kilometres of paved roads, 265 kilometres of gravel roads, 1 133 kilometres of rehabilitated roads, 299 kilometre of power lines, and 11 new bridges – including three bridges between Lesotho and South Africa in Maseru, Maputsoe and Caledonspoort.

South Africa had also contributed R50-million to the construction of the Metolong Dam, which supplies water to Lesotho, along with a village and information centre at Metolong.

At the same time, Zuma said, South Africa had gained high-quality water transfers, new job opportunities, and improved infrastructure in the Free State towns of Clarens, Fouriesburg, Ficksburg and Ladybrand in the form of new border crossings and improved amenities, community halls, clinics, houses and rail facilities.

According to the Department of Water Affairs, six of South Africa’s nine provinces, as well as the country’s mining sector and major companies such as Sasol and Eskom, have all benefitted from the improved water security provided by the augmentation of the country’s largest river system, the Vaal.

“As it stands, 40% of the water in the Vaal is from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project,” the department said in a statement last week.

The first phase of the project comprises the Katse and Mohale dams, the Muela Hydropower station, and 124 kilometre of tunnels and associated infrastructure.

The second phase will involve building the Polihali Dam in the Mokhotlong district, which is located in the northeastern part of Lesotho and, according to Wikipedia, includes both the highest terrain in the Maloti mountain range and the source of the Senqu River, Lesotho’s primary watershed.

A new tunnel will also be built from from Polihali Dam to Katse Dam, along with new hydropower features and other advanced infrastructure.

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See Using Brand South Africa material.