LHDA allays water shortage fears



MASERU – Reports of a decline in water levels at the Katse and Mohale dams which have triggered panic on the possible effect on water delivery to South Africa are false, the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) has told Public Eye. Media reports in South African news outlets this week warned of a decline in the Katse and Mohale dams’ water levels, which would in turn affect delivery of the “white gold” to the neighbouring country.

This information was allegedly being circulated by the South African Water and Sewage Department. However, the LHDA Public Relations Officer, Masilo Phakoe, told this publication that their published reports state otherwise. Phoakoe said what is actually happening is a seasonal fluctuation of water levels in the dams, not necessarily a decline. He said the LHDA data does not indicate that the water in any of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) reservoirs is in long term decline. The water levels vary according to the seasons and other factors such as how much is being drawn down at a particular time.

He said their 12-month historical data and graph indicate that in September last year the water levels were going down till they were at the lowest level on 1st November 2020 (at 20.44 percent), from there the water levels picked up to reach maximum of 78.84 percent in March 29 this year.

“As of today, September 23 the water level in the Katse Reservoir is 63.44 percent of live storage of the reservoir. You will note that at this level, the amount of water in storage is still much greater than what was in storage in November 2020 (20.44 percent).

“If it rains during this summer season, the water levels are expected to go up again. Every year the LHDA develops an annual plan indicating how much water will be transferred to South Africa. The available water in the reservoirs now is sufficient to meet the planned watery delivery target of 780 million cubic litres of water to South Africa,” Phakoe said.

This is in contrast with what the South African Water and Sanitation Department published.

The Water and Sanitation Department announced a decline in both Katse and Mohale Dams, further articulating that the decline has become a normal occurrence week-on-week.

“The Mohale Dam continued to be a cause for concern as it floundered to lower levels. The dam fell from a poor 30.6 percent to 30.3 percent. In the comparative period last year, the dam was at 4.6 percent.

“From a comfortable 64.6 percent last week to 64.1 percent this week, the level of the Katse Dam is continuing to slightly drop. At the same time last year, it stood at 24.8 percent, this is a huge improvement from last year’s level,” the South African Water and Sewerage Department said.

It said, as a result, Gauteng’s main source of water supply, the Vaal Dam has this week continued to decline and therefore appealed to water users to continue to conserve the depleting water resource. “Vaal Dam stood at 34.6 percent last year during the same week. This week, the dam stands at a stable level of 84.6 percent. This indicates a minor drop from last week’s 85.8 percent.

“Other dams that have seen a decline this week include the Grootdraai and the Bloemhof. The Grootdraai Dam fell from 78.1 percent last week to 76.8 percent this week. Despite this week’s decline, the present levels of the dam are in a heathier state compared to the 77.3 percent the dam recorded at the same time last year,” the department noted.

It further noted that Bloemhof Dam is currently slightly lower at 103.3 percent, as compared to the 104.3 percent, last week but up from last year’s 93.6 percent at the same period. The department further said this week Sterkfontein Dam, which is a reserve dam for the Integrated Vaal River System, also showed a decline from 104.3 percent last week to 103.3 percent this week, adding that during the preceding year at the same week, the dam was equally stronger when it stood at 93.6 percent.

“The Integrated Vaal River System (IVRS) continues to be in a stable position and to withstand the pressure put on it as a result of some critical dams in the system recording a decline in levels. “Despite its fall this week, the IVRS is still resilient at 82.6 percent following a drop from last week’s 83.2 percent. The system was poorer in the preceding year in the same week when it recorded at 58.3 percent,” it added.

The LHWP is a multi-phased project to provide water to the Gauteng region of South Africa and to generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho. It was established by a 1986 treaty signed by the governments of Lesotho and of South Africa. The project entails harnessing the waters of the Senqu/Orange River in the Lesotho highlands through the construction of a series of dams for the mutual benefit of the two countries.

Phase I of the project was completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004, and Phase II is currently underway. In 2020 alone, Lesotho earned M1.03 billion (about US$69 million) when it sold about 780 million cubic metres of water to South Africa, according to the LHDA.

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