A detailed feasibility study for the Umzimvubu water project, in the Eastern Cape, was started in January, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said in a written response to a Parliamentary question posed by the Democratic Alliance’s Gareth Morgan.
The dam is intended to supply new water capacity for irrigation development, and domestic and industrial water requirements in the Mzimvubu river catchment, as well as to potentially develop hydropower.
The study is intended to update a similar investigation undertaken by the erstwhile department of Water Affairs in 2006. “The detailed feasibility study for the Umzimvubu water project is intended to align the detailed work done some years ago to the possible current realities and will therefore not be an extensive one,” the Minister said.
From the previous preliminary investigations, a site at Ntabelanga on the Tsitsa river, a tributary of the Mzimvubu river, was found the most promising for a dam, providing potential space for a reservoir with a capacity of about 600-million cubic metres, capable of yielding 180-million cubic metres of water a year.
Molewa said the dam is expected to cost around R20-billion to build, including all ancillary infrastructure. This included the cost of a dam and additional infrastructure, such as irrigation development, a hydropower plant and bulk distribution infrastructure.
“A multidisciplinary team undertaking the feasibility study will look at the accurate assessment of the costs of the dam and related development, the environmental impact and mitigation measures, if any, the social impact, the economic and job impact - regionally and nationally - and the microeconomic viability of the project,” the Minister said.
The study is scheduled to be completed within two-and-a-half years and recommendations will then be made for final consideration, before project implementation. The earliest start date for construction is currently estimated to be during the 2013/14 financial year, with first water delivery expected in around 2018, depending on the environmental authorisation and funding arrangements of the project.
The Mzimvubu river catchment study area falls in the Mzimvubu to Keiskamma water management area, spanning the OR Tambo, Alfred Nzo, Sisonke and Ukhahlamba district municipalities, in the Eastern Cape.
“Crucial for the success of irrigation development is the availability of arable soils within the vicinity of the project. The feasibility study will examine this aspect in detail, but preliminary indications from the initial high-level investigation pointed to a potential of 11 000 ha being available,” the Minister pointed out in her answer.
Further, the project aims at creating about 2 000 permanent and temporary jobs through the scheme. Temporary jobs will be created during construction while permanent jobs will become available during the operation and maintenance of the scheme, as well as on irrigation fields and in downstream economic activities.