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Jul 13, 2012

Despite concerns, work advancing on next Lesotho Highlands Water Project phase

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Some concern is already being expressed about the possibility of corruption in tender processes for the Lesotho Highlands Water Project’s (LHWP’s) Phase 2 cross-border water project, as was the case during the earlier phases. But Engineering News has found that concerted efforts are being made to lower risk of corruption, as Lesotho and South Africa prepare the way for a project that many view as vital to augmenting water supply to the region’s economic heartland of Gauteng.

South African Department of Water Affairs (DWA) chief delegate in Lesotho Dr Zodwa Dlamini confirms that an anticorruption policy between South Africa and Lesotho, as well as the oversight body, has been put in place for the duration of the project to protect it from corruption.

The reason for the concern is that the former LHWP CEO, Masupha Sole, was convicted by a Lesotho court for accepting bribes during the first phase of the project and, owing to the size of Phase 2, it seems there is potential for more corruption.

Former Department of Water Affairs (DWA) director-general during Phase 1A and 1B Mike Muller says the best defence against repeat corruption is the example set by the conviction of the culprits.

“If contractors, consultants and officials know there will be action taken against them for any corrupt practice, they are less likely to be tempted, which is why Phase 1B was completed on time and within budget – there was no appetite for funny business,” he explains.

Sole was not the only one found guilty of corruption during Phase 1A, says Muller. The World Bank blacklisted Canadian consultant firm Acres after it had paid bribes to Basotho officials and the firm closed down shortly thereafter. Some British and German companies were sanctioned and other Basotho officials were jailed, some of whom received considerable sentences.

“It is highly unlikely that corruption will take place in the second phase. The convictions send a clear message that the project authorities will not tolerate corruption,” he claims.

People and the Environment
Another concern being expressed relates to the displacement of people, as well as the possible negative effects on the environment.

International Rivers communications and Africa programme liaison officer Lori Pottinger says project documents reveal that Phase 2 will displace 17 villages and affect the grazing land of 72 more, potentially impacting on the livelihoods of 3 317 Basotho households.

An editorial by International Rivers suggests that South Africans should consider the effects of the water system on the fauna and flora in the vicinity of the rivers as immense land areas will become increasingly water-starved.

“Rivers are the most endangered natural systems on the planet and climate change will make their overall health more vulnerable,” says Pottinger, who notes that the completed project will divert 40% of the water in the Senqu river basin to South Africa.

Even with advanced river-modelling and mitigation programmes, it is difficult to say how downstream areas will react to drastically reduced flows.

Social-impact studies are being done to evaluate the impact the project will have on the Basotho people. According to Dlamini, Phase 2 has experienced no resistance to its implementation.

In the media, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) has stated that it will transfer almost R8-million to the establishment of the Lesotho Biodiversity Trust for addressing environmental impacts of the project. Other mechanisms are being put in place to assist in the prompt resolution of resettlement and compensation queries.

According to the LHDA, its resettlement and compensation policy includes the provision of rural skills training, as well as funds for fisheries management; range management; land use planning; forestry; agriculture; and a rural income enhancement project.

“There will always be people whose expectations are not met, as well as those outside the affected area that will move into the area with the aim of compensation,” says DWA chief engineer of options analysis central Peter Pyke.

Dlamini further states that a prison will also be affected by Phase 2, and matters surrounding resettlement will be discussed and agreed upon by the principal chiefs of the area.

“A draft compensation policy is scheduled for discussion in July with those affected communities,” says Dlamini.

Communities have indicated they are more concerned about when compensation will take place, rather than with how much they will receive.

Pottinger says that a paper published in African Study Monographs in 2010, which examined the success of the resettlement caused by the Mohale dam, concluded that while support for income-generating and agricultural activities was well intentioned and well funded, it was largely ineffectual.

“The study says the majority of the affected people have had a portion of their livelihoods restored through compensation but, from their perspective, are worse off than they were before the project began,” she says.

Muller argues that there are not any serious criticisms of Phase 2 and, in hindsight, concerns about the resettlement of people as a result of being displaced by the project as well as fears about its potential environmental impact were unfounded.

“There will always be campaigners who want to stop this kind of project – groups such as International Rivers have even objected to the use of the word ‘storage’ in African water policy and will continue to find new issues to raise,” says Muller.

Bringing water from Lesotho saves large amounts of energy; it meets people’s needs by delivering water; it will sustain both economies; and it demonstrates that countries can cooperate and share the world’s natural resources.

Muller concludes that, for the sake of the citizens of Lesotho, who stand to benefit from the jobs and project revenues, as well as the water users of Gauteng and its surrounds, who will get a reliable source of water, the project needs to be implemented quickly, cleanly and efficiently.

Construction
During Phase 2, the intention is to construct the so-called Polihali dam on the Senqu river, downstream of the Khubelu confluence. The new dam will have a reservoir capacity of 2 322-million cubic metres.

The Polihali dam is expected to have a reservoir impounded by a main dam wall with a maximum height of 163.5 m, as well as a saddle dam wall of about 49.5 m, says Pyke.

It will also involve a new 38.2 km long, 5 m diameter transfer tunnel to the Katse dam, whereafter the existing tunnel to the Muela hydropower complex and the Ash river outlet will be used. The complex is set for expansions and advanced infrastructure, and environmental and social development programmes will be required in Lesotho.

The project will entail the development of advanced infrastructure, such as access roads to the project site, power transmission lines and administration centres, including social and environmental projects.

“The volume of the material in the main dam wall will be 12.3-million cubic metres and the surface area of the reservoir will span 50.4 km2. The Polihali contribution to the Vaal river system will be about 465 × 10 m3 a year,” he says.

He notes that the conveyance system from the Katse dam will link to the existing infrastructure, which has sufficient capacity to convey Phase 2 water to South Africa with some minor modifications.

“Studies are under way for a pumped- storage hydroelectric scheme using Katse dam as the bottom dam and, if it proves to be viable, it might be included in Phase 2 and financed by Lesotho,” he says.

Dlamini says the provisional programme for the design and construction of Phase 2, which includes the environmental and social development baseline studies and plans, will be ongoing from August 2012 to July 2020.

The appointment of consultants and the design and issue of construction tenders will take place from November 2012 to December 2015, the construction of advanced infrastructure from July 2014 to December 2015 and the construction of the dam and tunnel from January 2016 to March 2020, while water delivery to South Africa is projected for August 2020.

“If the pumped storage scheme is to be included, it will be constructed between January 2013 and December 2017,” he says.

The water aspect of the phase will cost about R7.8-billion. Capital expenditure will be directed towards the construction of the tunnels (R2-billion), new infrastructure (R1.3-billion), engineering works (R1.1-billion), administration costs (R335.6-million), environment expenses (R365.5-million) and social costs (R363.3-million). Feasibility costs will be updated in the design phase.

“The DWA has mandated the State-owned Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority, which will require government guarantees,” says Dlamini.

The latest development in the project is the agreement between the South Africa and Lesotho governments, which will be submitted to Parliament for ratification following its approval by South Africa’s Cabinet.

The agreement will augment the original treaty and address issues relating to the operation and implementation of Phase 2.

The government of Lesotho is also preparing to pursue the R7.6-billion hydropower project linked to the Phase 2 developments.

It is estimated that the plant will be operational by 2018 and will supply 1 200 MW of power, of which 200 MW will be consumed by Lesotho, with the remaining power being transmitted to South Africa.

Pyke claims that all consumers of the Vaal river, not only Gauteng consumers, will have to pay incremental costs for extra water being brought from the Lesotho highlands.

The Senqu and Orange rivers originate in the mountain region of Lesotho, traversing in a westerly direction about 2 000 km to the Atlantic Ocean and are joined halfway by the Vaal river.

Annual rainfall on the Lesotho highlands ranges from 600 mm in the low Senqu valley to 1 000 mm along the mountain ranges.

The LHWP was identified more than 50 years ago as the most cost-effective water resource exploitation to benefit both Lesotho and South Africa.

According to the LHDA, Lesotho has water in relevant abundance and the water resource far exceeds its possible future requirements, even allowing for possible future irrigation projects, general development and the improvement of living standards.

There is about 150 m3/s of water available while Lesotho’s national consumption is only 2 m3/s.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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