Major dam levels remain low despite heavy rains

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Despite sufficient rains in the previous two months, national dams remain relatively empty although the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) says this is not a cause for concern.

One of Lesotho’s major natural resources is water and the country’s economy hinges, among others, on the proceeds from selling water to South Africa and electricity generated at ’Muela hydropower station in Butha Buthe.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network report published last month, the country received improved rainfall between December 2019 and January this year.

However, as at Sunday February 2, Katse Dam water level stood at 28.35 percent, while Mohale Dam level stood at 13.04 percent.

Around the same time last year, Katse Dam water level stood at 38.8 percent, while Mohale Dam was at 18.1 percent.

In a shocking development last year, the water Level in Katse Dam hit its lowest mark since the reservoir was first filled in 1997.

This frightening development raised the prospect that water transfers to South Africa from Katse Dam could have to be suspended.

The prospect posed a threat to generation of electricity at the ’Muela hydropower station in Butha Buthe which uses water from Katse Dam to generate electricity.

LHDA public relations manager Masilo Phakoe told Public Eye recently that “we are not perturbed” at the low dam levels.

“There is an agreed quantity of water that we can transfer to South Africa in a year. I think this year we are supposed to transfer about 639 million cubic metres.

“The quantity was agreed on after our engineers made projections and found that we will be able to transfer that quantity,” Phakoe said.

He said the two countries, Lesotho and South Africa, came to an agreement that when 639 million cubic metres of water had been transferred to South Africa, the LHDA should halt supply and store the water in its dams to avoid wastage.

In May 2018, Dr Peter van Niekerk who was responsible for all water resources planning in the department of water affairs in South Africa from 1987 to 2009, suggested that Lesotho and South Africa should deepen co-operation by urgently addressing the wasteful operation of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) – “not only for the sake of Gauteng’s water security but also for the wider regional benefit”.

Niekerk said water was released from the Katse and Mohale dams at a rate of 38 cubic metres per second. “That is 3.3 million cubic metres per day – more than six times the daily use of Cape Town,” he said.

Instead of storing the water at high elevation and at conditions with low evaporation, he said the water released ended up in the sea.

“It is not clever to release water from the Katse and Mohale dams to the Vaal Dam when the latter is full, yet that is happening. The Vaal Dam is currently spilling. At present the LHWP releases as much as 40 cubic meters per second, all of which is lost over the spillway of the Vaal Dam, and therefore not available to the users that pay for the project,” Niekerk said then.

Water from Katse Dam and Mohale Dam flows through a series of underground tunnels to the Vaal Dam which serves as a muscle behind the economy of Gauteng as it supplies water to Sasol and Eskom.

These two industries are at the centre of the province’s economic fortunes.

Phakoe told this paper on Thursday this week that the two countries had come to an agreement to ensure optimal supply of water to South Africa.

“Another projection will be done and we will conclude another agreement in November regarding the total amount of water we will supply to South Africa in the coming year,” he said.

Katse and Mohale dams are a result of a 1986 Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) treaty between Lesotho and South Africa.

The treaty prescribed minimum flow that was to be released from Lesotho, irrespective of the state of the dams downstream in South Africa.

This was to ensure continued generation of electricity for Lesotho at the ’Muela hydropower station in Botha Bothe.

The hydropower station utilises water released to South Africa to generate electricity.

In 2018, Lesotho received some M936 million in royalties from exporting some 779 million cubic metres of water to South Africa.

In 2017, some 779 million cubic metres of water were transferred to South Africa and Lesotho received about M903 million in royalties.

In 2016, a M837 million revenue was made from sale of 779 million cubic metres.

Lesotho received some M936 million in royalties from exporting some 779 million cubic metres of water to South Africa in 2018.

In 2017, some 779 million cubic metres of water were transferred to South Africa and Lesotho received about M903 million in royalties.

In 2016, a M837 million revenue was made from sale of 779 million cubic metres.

The water from the LHWP is used in six provinces of South Africa.

It cools the Eskom power stations in Mpumalanga, keeps Sasol and the Free State gold mines operational and supplies the vast industries and sprawling urban areas of Gauteng.

It also provides life to some of the southern towns of Limpopo and the platinum mines of North West, as well as the diamond mines and people of Kimberley and surrounding areas.

Under drought conditions, emergency water can, and has been transferred to the Caledon River and to the Eastern Cape and southern Free State through the BloemWater network.

 

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