Multibillion-rand plan to boost Vaal water supply

Cabinet has approved plans to embark on a second phase of the Lesotho Highlands water project, which will involve building a second hydroelectric dam to augment the Vaal river system.

Lindiwe Hendricks, minister of water affairs and forestry, made the announcement at a media briefing in Pretoria on Thursday.

She said her departmental proposals have been approved by her colleagues, although first she must ensure that the illegal water use on the Vaal is curbed, and conservation and demand management are improved to stop other water losses.

Thirdly she will have to ensure that effluent - largely discharged into the river from the mines - is treated to improve water quality.

She said she expects that these measures will prevent the region from running out of water by 2013, and that once they are in place, the building of the dam can go ahead with the aim of completing it by 2019.

The project, including the construction of the Polihali Dam in Lesotho, will cost R7,3-billion, which is to be raised off-budget through borrowings from the capital markets.

The minister explained that her department’s investigations indicated two possible ways of augmenting the Vaal system - the Lesotho project or another phase of the Tukhela project, which involves lifting water from KwaZulu-Natal over the Drakensburg.

The Lesotho alternative got the nod, she said, because it was more energy-efficient.

Water from the Lesotho highlands would be led into the Vaal by gravity. The Tukhela scheme would require the expenditure of energy for pumps.

In addition, the carbon footprint of both countries would be improved because the dam would also generate clean electricity.

“We have been in discussions with the government of Lesotho which is strongly in favour of the project,” Hendricks said.

She added that when she told her ministerial counterpart there about the Cabinet decision “he was very excited”.

The Vaal system is considered the most important water source in South Africa, Hendricks said, because it supplies water to 60% of the economy, 45% of the population, the whole of Gauteng and the Northern Cape, which includes Kimberley and Upington.

It also supplies mines and industries on the Mpumalanga highveld, the North West and Free State gold fields, agricultural users in Gauteng, Northern Cape, Free State and North West, and the strategically important coal-to-liquid facilities on the coal fields of the highveld. - I-Net Bridge

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