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Study Area

Area Description

The study area comprises the water resources of the Vaal River System (VRS) which includes the catchments of the Upper, Middle and the Lower Vaal Water Management Areas (WMAs) – from Kuruman in the west to Ermelo in the east and Johannesburg in the north to the Lesotho border in the south. Other sub-systems that also form part of Integrated Vaal River System or are linked to VRS are indicated on the map in this newsletter.

Considerable variations in climatic conditions occur over the three WMAs. The Mean Annual Precipitation (MAP) decreases from 800 mm in the Upper Vaal to 500 mm in the Middle Vaal and 100 mm in the Lower Vaal WMA. This tendency is reversed when considering potential annual evapotranspiration, which increases from 1300 mm in the Upper Vaal to 2800 mm in the Lower Vaal WMA.

The land use in the Upper Vaal WMA is characterised by the sprawling urban and industrial areas in the northern and western parts of the WMA.

 There is also extensive coal and gold mining activities located in the Upper Vaal WMA. These activities are generating substantial return flow volumes in the form of treated effluent from the urban areas and mine dewatering that are discharged into the river system. These discharges are having significant impacts on the water quality in the main stem of the Vaal River, throughout all three the WMAs.

The Upper Vaal WMA is economically important, contributing nearly 20% of the Gross Domestic Product of South Africa, which is the second largest contribution to the national wealth amongst all nineteen of the WMAs in the country. The potential for future economic growth in this WMA remains strong. Growth will largely be attracted to the already strong urban and industrial areas in the Johannesburg-Vereeniging-Vanderbijlpark complex.

FIGURE 1: Vaal River System and adjacent Systems


The Middle Vaal WMA is rural in nature with the land use characterised by extensive dry land agriculture. Irrigation is practiced downstream of dams along the main tributaries as well as at locations along the Vaal River. The largest urban areas are Klerksdorp, Welkom and Kroonstad. The economy of the Middle Vaal WMA contributes about 4% of the GDP of South Africa with the most dominant economic activity being the mining sector, generating more than 45% of the GDP in the WMA. As in the Upper Vaal WMA, mine dewatering and the subsequent Acid Mine Drainage impacts on water quality.

The land use in the Lower Vaal WMA is primary livestock farming, with some dry land cultivation in the northeast. Intensive irrigation is practiced at Vaalharts as well as locations along the Vaal River. Diamond bearing intrusions occur near Kimberley (the most important urban area) and alluvial diamonds are found near Bloemhof. Iron ore and other minerals are found in the south-eastern parts of the WMA.

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