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Mar 13, 2006

National water resource strategy puts new projects on construction agenda

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South Africa’s national water resource strategy (NWRS) has put a slew of infrastructural projects on the construction agenda in the 2006-to-2026 timeframe, Engineering News can today report.

There are five future large-scale dams primarily for irrigation purposes, which still account for the most water use in South Africa, and 11 future large-scale projects primarily for domestic, urban, industrial and mining purposes that form part of the water up-scaling plan.

The NWRS and the many projects that go with it (see full lists on these pages) are designed to avert future water crises in a country that needs to make itself acutely aware that it is water-stressed, even though it has enough water to meet its national needs for the foreseeable future, the former Department of Water Affairs DG and visiting research fellow at the University of Witwatersrand Mike Muller assures.

At the same time, he emphasises that South Africans need to be conscious that they live in a water-stressed country and that “some activities will have to reduce water consumption levels to allow new users to come on board”.

Muller’s sobering message is that, even if South Africa does factor in the further infrastructural development, there will be no stopping several additional water-management areas declining into water deficit by 2025.

Moreover, infrastructural development is an expensive option, which is why Muller prioritises the more efficient use of available water resources.

Among the many NWRS recommendations is something that not that long ago would have been considered radical – the desalination of seawater.

Muller’s disclosure that the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape and even Kwazulu-Natal are already considering desalination options may be sobering for those who thought desalination to be a long way off.

Although still more expensive than developing and transferring surface water, more cost-efficient membrane technologies are fast improving desalination’s economics.

Many Middle Eastern countries have been desalinating on a large scale for some time and there are already examples of small-scale local desalination proving more cost-effective than transporting fresh water over long distances in certain parts of South Africa.

“Even though desalination is an energy-intensive and, therefore, expensive process, it may be the best way to address some water problems,” says Muller.

While he concurs that the projects on the NWRS list have the potential to make a significant contribution towards satisfying the country’s water needs, he emphases that they will work only if people understand South Africa’s water constraints.

He makes the point that, in dry provinces, such as Limpopo and the Northern Cape, there is already an understanding of the water challenge as a result of provincial governments’ accepting the limited availability of water and clearly stating the need to use water efficiently.

However, in provinces such as Gauteng many are insufficiently conscious of water consumption and do not feel the challenge.

More than 40% of South Africa’s population lives in Gauteng, where nearly 60% of all industrial and 80% of all mining output is generated.

For some time now, the Lesotho Highlands, with its high rainfall and surface area of high basalt mountains – the Maloti – have been helping to provide Gauteng’s water needs by rejuvenating the Vaal river.

But the harsh reality is that climate models suggest that globally rising temperatures could increase the variability of climate and decrease rainfall in South Africa, which could, in turn, decrease stream flow.

In some parts of the Western Cape, one of the most challenged of South Africa’s provinces, models suggest that by 2015 stream flow could decrease by as much as 10% in the province’s most affected parts.

The models suggest further that, by about 2060, the reduction in runoff will progress from the west to the east coast and the effect on groundwater recharge could be even greater, although this is less predictable.

An increase in the variability of stream flow would mean a reduction in natural yields and reliability, even if the average rainfall were to remain the same, and the unit cost of water from dams would increase.

Moreover, a decrease in water availability, if it came about, would lower water quality and limit still further the extent to which water may be used and developed.

Department of Water Affairs and Forestry spokesperson Themba Khumalo says that the reuse of water is another option identified to overcome the water challenge.

He makes the point that substantial volumes of water are returned to streams after use, and are then available for reuse.

However, he stresses that the quality of the return flows has to be such that it satisfies the relevant user requirements, adding that the total usable return flows are close to double the current yield from groundwater.

Skills task-team

Khumalo discloses that a task team has been established to develop a capacity-building strategy for the water sector, the objective of which is to ensure that, in some reasonable and achievable timeframe – a period of 15 years has been suggested – all South African water-sector participants, including the local government and the Water Sector Education and Training Authority, will have created the required capacity in all relevant institutions for the full implementation of water policy and law.

In addition, the department is developing a national water-conservation and water-demand management strategy as well as subsidiary strategies for the sectors of water services, agriculture, industry, mining and power generation.

The strategies will outline measures and interventions aimed at encouraging and supporting water institutions and water users to increase efficiency of water use and to reduce water demand.

TCTA CEO Martie van Rensburg makes the case for cross-boundary transfer to deal with the uneven distribution of water in South Africa. While there could be heavy rainfalls in one part of the country, there could be drought in another and that is something that also needs to be taken into consideration when addressing the country’s water needs.

In her opinion, the solution is the transfer of water from one province to another.

A slew of strategised projects form the backbone of the 20-20-20 programme in accordance with the NWRS of 20 projects in 20 years worth R20-billion, the National Water Resource Branch being in the process of becoming for water what Eskom is for electricity and Transnet is for logistics – a scaled-up parastatal.

TCTA is involved with the development of projects that the user can pay for, though some of the 20-20-20 projects will be funded by the national government.

Development opportunities

Opportunities for increased water use include the possible expansion of irrigation in the upper and lower Orange and Fish rivers to the Tsitsikamma water-management areas, using water from the upper Orange water-management area; the use of surplus water available from the Pongolapoort dam in the Usutu to the Mhlathuze water-management area; the refurbishment of currently under-productive irrigation schemes and the potential for additional development in the Mzimvubu to Keiskamma water-management areas; as well as the expansion of irrigation in the north-eastern part of Limpopo province from the Nandoni dam in the Livhuvhu river.

Present schemes

Completion of the feasibility study for the next phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is expected by 2007.

The Olifants River Water Resource Develop-ment Project in the Limpopo province involves constructing the R3,5-billion De Hoop dam and the three gauging weirs on the Steelpoort river and the realignment of a section of 25 km of the provincial road between Steelpoort and Stoffberg (the R555) around the dam basin.

Subphases 2B and 2G involve the construction of a 70-km-long bulk pipeline, associated pump-stations, balancing dams, off-takes and reservoirs from Flag Boshielo dam on the farm Pruissen, located to the east of Mokopane.

This will be upgraded later by construction of a second parallel pipeline.

Subphase 2C involves the construction of an abstraction weir on the Steelpoort river, a pump-station and desilting dam near Steelpoort town.

Subphases involve the con-struction of a 120-km-long bulk pipeline, pumpstations, balancing dams, offtakes and reservoirs from the town of Steelpoort past Atok mine to the existing Olifantspoort weir.

Dam construction is scheduled for the beginning of this year and will be completed by 2010.

Construction of infrastructure for phase two of the Olifants river project has been authorised.

The Vaal River Eastern Subsystem Augmentation Project (Vresap), from the Vaal dam to Secunda, Mpumalanga, entails constructing a raw-water pipeline that will pump 160-million m3 of water a year from the Vaal dam into the Trichardtsfontein and Bosjesspruit dams on the Eastern Highveld, in Mpumalanga, to ensure water supply for Eskom’s power generation, Sasol’s synthetic-fuels industry and other urban and industrial users until 2030.

The R2,5-billion Vresap project, which is due to be completed by the middle of next year, has been funded by the private sector and paid for through tariff charges to Eskom and Sasol.

The debt incurred to finance the project will be paid over 20 years after the project is completed.

Proposed projects

The Thukela Water Project is for the transfer of water from the Thukela river to the Vaal river system to meet the increasing urban and industrial demand in Gauteng and surrounding areas.

The scheme under investigation, with an anticipated yield of 510 million m3/a, comprises the construction of dams on the Thukela river (at the Jana site) and the Bushman’s river (at the Mielietuin site) and transfer aqueducts.

Another proposed alternative to meet rising demand in the Vaal system is the implementation of phase two of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which implies the transfer of water from the proposed Mashai dam in Lesotho, as well as from a dam at the Orange/Kwaai confluence (at the Boskraai site) in the upper Orange water-management area.

The Thukela-Mhlathuze transfer scheme could transfer a maximum of an additional 54-million m3/a from the Thukela river into the Mhlathuze water-management area for possible mining and industrial developments.

Water could be abstracted from site on the Thukela at Mandini for use at the Fairbreeze mine, or at Middeldrift, through the Goedertrouw dam, for use at Richards Bay and surrounding areas.

Edited by: Ollie Madlala

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