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Study Area

Area Description

The area under investigation is the entire Luvuvhu and Letaba Water Management Area (WMA) and parts of the adjacent WMAs. The Luvuvhu/Letaba WMA is located adjacent to and shares watercourses with Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and the Limpopo River demarcates the northern boundary of the WMA. The Kruger National Park (KNP) lies along the eastern boundary, and occupies approximately 35% of the WMA.

The main rivers in the WMA are the Luvuvhu, Shingwedzi and Letaba rivers, which all flow in an easterly direction through the Kruger National Park and into Mozambique before discharging into the Indian Ocean. The Shingwedzi River first flows into the Rio des Elephantes (Olifants River) in Mozambique, which then joins the Limpopo River. The two main tributaries of the Letaba River, the Klein and Groot Letaba, have their confluence on the western boundary of the Kruger National Park, whilst the Letaba River flows into the Olifants River just upstream of the border with Mozambique.


The topography of the Luvuvhu/Letaba WMA varies from a zone of high mountains in the west through low mountains and foothills in the central part of the WMA to the low lying plains in the east. The mountainous zone or Great Escarpment includes the northern portion of the Drakensberg mountain range and the eastern Soutpansberg, which both extend to the western parts of the water management area, and the characteristic wide expanse of the Lowveld to the east of the escarpment. The highest peaks have an elevation of more than 2 000 m above mean sea level (msl). This zone is deeply incised by the major tributaries draining the WMA. The low lying plains cover most of the WMA and have gentle to flat slopes.

The main urban areas are Tzaneen and Nkowankowa in the Groot Letaba River catchment, Giyani in the Klein Letaba River catchment, and Thohoyandou in the Luvuvhu River catchment. Approximately 80 to 90% of the population can be considered as rural, scattered throughout the WMA.

The mean annual temperature ranges from about 18 °C in the mountainous areas to more than 28 °C in the northern and eastern parts of the WMA with an average of about 25,5 °C for the WMA as a whole. Maximum temperatures are experienced in January and minimum temperatures occur on average in July.

Rainfall is strongly seasonal and occurs mainly during the summer months (i.e. October to March) and is strongly influenced by the topography. The peak rainfall months are January and February. The mean annual precipitation varies from less than 450mm on the low lying plains (northern and eastern part of the WMA) to more than 2 300 mm at Entambeni in the Soutpansberg in the mountainous areas (south western and north western parts of the WMA).

The average potential mean annual gross evaporation (as measured by S pan) ranges between 1 300mm in the extreme western mountainous region and 2 000mm in the northern and eastern areas. The highest evaporation occurs in the period October to January and the lowest is in June.

The geology is varied and complex and consists mainly of sedimentary rocks in the north and metamorphic and igneous rocks in the south. High quality coal deposits are found near Tshikondeni and in the northern part of the Kruger National Park, whilst the eastern limb of the mineral rich Bushveld Igneous Complex touches on the southern parts of the water management area. With the exception of sandy aquifers in the Limpopo River Valley, the formation is of relatively low water-bearing capacity. A wide spectrum of soils occur in the WMA, with sandy soils most common.



The total population for the study area is around 1.8 million people. Approximately 80-90% of the population can be described as rural. A large proportion of the population depends on subsistence farming and this makes availability of water a vital subject for consideration.


Economic activities

downstream of the Middle Letaba Dam, and particularly along the Groot Letaba and Letsitele Rivers, as well as in the upper Luvuvhu River catchment. Vegetables (including the largest tomato production area in the country), citrus and a variety of fruits such as bananas, mangoes, avocados and nuts are grown. Large areas have been planted with commercial forests in the high rainfall parts of the Drakensberg escarpment and on the Soutpansberg.

Mining also takes place all over the study area while 35% of the study area consists of the Kruger National Park. A significant number of people in the catchment live subsistence livelihoods.

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