Lapse in wetlands management reported

SA stokes fears of reduced dam levels but LHDA allays concerns

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – The Department of Water Affairs that is entrusted with the responsibility of water conservation and management of water resources, including wetlands, as well as updating and maintaining the national water sources database has failed to do its job as expected, Public Eye can report. As a result, the country has no data on the country’s wetlands, their condition as well as the space they cover in the entire country.

This is contained in the Auditor General’s report on the consolidated financial statements of the government of Lesotho for the year 2020. The report notes that through an audit that was made to assess the effectiveness of measures taken by department of water to execute its mandate, it was revealed that the exercise to identify wetlands was not done and that GPS gadgets were non-existent hence there is no data regarding the number of wetlands and their conditions in the country.

As a result, the department failed to produce timely reports making it impossible for authorities to attend to adverse situations timeously. It further shows that the department relied on reports produced by its stakeholders, including Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). Wetlands make up the critical water sources for Lesotho’s main rivers, Senqu, Mohokare and Makhaleng.

The report notes that as per FAO, in 2017 wetlands covered 32 580 hectares (1.1 percent) of the country’s total land of 3 055 314 hectares. It also shows that the department of water affairs failed to do its job even though it was recommended that it should consider budgeting for equipment such as GPSs for demarcation of wetlands. “Management said wetlands have been identified and maps were available. They further stated that the 2017 FAO land cover map was based on information provided by the department.

“More information was available on wetlands covered under projects where resources were relatively available. Moreover, GPSs have since been acquired and were available at the department of water affairs,” reads the report. The report further revealed that monitoring of wetlands that was done based on their economic importance, degradation status as well ease of accessibility was not done on a quarterly basis due to lack of transport. The last time monitoring activities were conducted was in 2013, hence no monitoring reports.

It reads that even then, that monitoring was only done on wetlands in Mokhotlong at the sources of Senqu basin, namely; Khubelu, Phapong, Ramosetsa, Motšeremeli, Khalo-la-lithunya and Koti-sephola. These are currently being rehabilitated under the support of Deutsche Gesellschaft fur International (GIZ).

The report further noted there were indeed inadequate resources in terms of human resources and transport which significantly contributed to the destruction of wetlands, as their status was not well known. Section 4 (b) of the Lesotho Water Act, 2008, stipulates that the commissioner should, in collaboration with relevant water management institutions, take all the relevant and necessary steps to rehabilitate already damaged wetlands.

It further reveals that in 12 wetlands visited, Khubelu wetland in Mokhotlong district was the only one that had recently undergone rehabilitation with the support of GIZ while others were in a bad state of destruction. The report notes further that the reasons provided for non-rehabilitation include lack of resources, inaccessibility and lack of security for officers undertaking fieldwork among hostile community members.

As result, wetlands were slowly drying out and water supply to Lesotho dams has also been reported to be deteriorating. South African Water and Sanitation Department on the 23rd September 2021 announced a decline in both Katse and Mohale dams further noting 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 says.

As a result, Gauteng’s main source of water supply, the Vaal Dam has continued to decline therefore SA 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 in the same period. The department further said this week Sterkfontein Dam, which is a reserve dam for the Integrated Vaal River System, had also shown a decline from 104.3 percent last week to 103.3 percent this week, adding that during the preceding year in the same week, the dam was equally strong 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 58.3 percent,” it added.

Public Relations Officer at Lesotho Highlands Water Authority (LHDA), Masilo Phakoe, speaking to Public Eye said their published reports paint a different scenario. He said what is actually happening is a fluctuation of water in the dams, changing with seasons, not necessarily the alleged decline. He said LHDA data does not indicate that the water in the 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.

He said their 12 months’ historical data and graph shows 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 a maximum of 78.84 percent on March 29 this year.

“As of today the 23rd September the water levels 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 water delivery target of 780 million cubic litres of water to South Africa,” Phakoe said.

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