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Study Approach

The strategy approach is based on interaction between the Technical Process and the Public Participation Process.

Public Participation Process

Strategic direction and guidance will be provided by the Strategy Steering Committee (SSC)

Technical Process 

The technical process is based on the following five pillars of the Reconciliation Strategy:

  • Eradicate unlawful irrigation water use;

  • Implement WC/WDM and aim to save 15% in the urban sector;

  • Prepare for the next augmentation scheme;

  • Implement water quality management measures; and

  • Treat and use effluent with mine water as a priority.

Below is detailed information on various studies currently being undertaken in the VRS to meet the obligations of the Reconciliation Strategy.

Eradication of unlawful water use

The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) has been undertaking the validation and verification of irrigation water use in the Upper, Middle and Lower Water Management Areas (WMAs). A validation process is done to see how much water farmers are using and a verification process determines if this water use is lawful. During the validation process significant deemed unlawful water use was identified in the Vaal River System (VRS).

These unlawful uses and users are now putting the VRS and those users who are using their water lawfully, at risk. The actual water use in the VRS is already higher than the sustainable yield from the system and the main reason why this is not evident is because higher than normal rainfall during the last number of years has resulted in fuller dams with no shortages yet. Even a moderate drought will result in serious water problems in the VRS which could have significant economic implications for the whole country.

As custodian of the national water resources, the DWS must promote the beneficial use of water in the best interest of all South Africans and also balance the protection and use of our water resources. The Department must therefore ensure that sufficient water, of the required quality, is made available to support domestic, industrial and agricultural water needs and that these users receive the volume of water they are legally entitled to.

Unlawful use of water has a detrimental effect on management of water resources with many knock-on effects influencing the economy, growth requirements, food security, etc. Although the costs of regulatory compliance are high, the DWS cannot allow unlawful, unrestricted and unmonitored use of water.

From the experience gained in the Vaal River, it has become clear that regulations to enforce the measurement of water abstraction for irrigation purposes is a prerequisite for efficient and effective action against partially unlawful water users, as this will reduce the responsible authority’s burden of proof. Until such regulations have been published, action against partially unlawful water users would be problematic.

The Minister requested further stakeholder engagements before the draft Regulations (submitted for approval during November 2011) are published for comment and a team has been appointed to drive this process.

Good progress has been made with the validation and verification of water use in all three the Vaal Water Management Areas (WMAs). The eradication of unlawful irrigation water use in the VRS will, however, not be met as planned by the end of 2012, but the aim is to address 66% of possible unlawful use by May 2013 and the remainder soon thereafter.

Water Conservation and Water Demand Management (Project 15%)

One of the main recommendations that were incorporated into the Reconciliation Strategy is the implementation of Water Conservation and Water Demand Management (WCWDM) measures by Local Government in order to save 15% of water use in the identified municipalities.

Project 15% has been launched in all the Gauteng municipalities with the main focus on the four largest Gauteng municipalities (City of Tshwane Metro, City of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni Metro and Emfuleni Local Municipality). Curbing water losses and inefficient water use from municipal water supply systems remain a key strategic action. To drive this intervention the DWA has set a target saving of 15% by 2015 (Project 15%) based on individual targets that was set for all the municipalities with WC/WDM interventions.

The total water demand for the Gauteng municipalities is still increasing and follows the projected high demand scenario with no WC/WDM interventions.

The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs requested a meeting with the Big 4: the three Gauteng Metros and Emfuleni Local Municipality to discuss the pollution in the Upper Vaal and Crocodile (West) Marico Water Management Area and also to discuss water conservation and water demand management (WC/WDM).

A study was done to investigate the potential for WC/WDM across all sectors: industry, mining, agriculture and domestic (municipal). It was found that the municipal sector has the highest potential for water savings. All municipalities within VRS were assessed for their potential contribution towards WC/WDM, including costs. Rand Water usage is the largest in the VRS at about 41% and future growth will come from the users. The current focus is therefore on the Rand Water users where there is a potential saving through WC/WDM in all municipalities in the order of 200 million cubic meters per annum.

The lack of sufficient budget for WC/WDM implementation is the biggest obstacle facing municipalities.

Next augmentation scheme - Phase 2 of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project

South Africa and Lesotho signed an agreement in Maseru in August 2011 for the implementation of the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP). Phase 2 of the LHWP will consist of the building of the Polihali Dam and a water delivery system to supplement the water in the VRS. The agreement has not yet been ratified by Parliament, but the project is still on schedule and the project should deliver water by 2020.

The study identified the building of the Polihali Dam as the best alternative to store water for supply to the Vaal River System (VRS). The Polihali Dam will be built on a higher altitude than the Katse Dam, which means the water can flow under gravity into the Katse Dam from where it will use the existing delivery tunnel system, via the Muela Hydropower Station and Dam, to link up with the VRS.

An important characteristic that was highlighted in the LHWP Feasibility Study of Phase 2 is that the full yield of the scheme (465 million m3 per year) can only be transferred to the VRS if a new yield replacement dam is built in the Orange River System to compensate users in that system. Without building a new dam in the Orange River System, the Phase 2 of the LHWP can only transfer 182 million m3 per year to the VRS without negatively impacting the supply of existing users in the Orange River System. Yield replacement in the form of another dam on the Orange River will thus have to be implemented at a later stage to utilise the full yield of LHWP Phase 2.

 Detail investigations of the best yield replacement scheme and other assessments will be undertaken as part of the recently commissioned study for the Development of Reconciliation Strategies for Large Bulk Water Supply Systems in the Orange River catchment.

Detailed negotiations and protocols for the implementation of the scheme are underway. This will include considerations of power supply options for Lesotho such as a major pumped storage project to generate electricity which would be jointly investigated.

Target Reconciliation Scenario

The water balance for the target Reconciliation Scenario is presented in Figure 1, which shows that a positive water balance can be maintained until the year 2050 if all the strategy actions are implemented.

Figure 1: System water balance and target reconciliation scenario

Notes on Figure 1 

  • Due to the high levels of the dams (May 2011) the system balance shows a short term excess for the first few years.

  • The discharge of high salinity mine water will increase once the underground compartments filled and this will require large volumes of releases from Vaal Dam for dilution, which reduces the system yield due to excessive spills and wastage from Bloemhof Dam.

  • Desalination and use of the mine effluent prevent these wastages and the system yield increases to about 3 000 million m3/annum by the year 2014.

  • The eradication of unlawful irrigation water use by 2013 and the savings through WC/WDM will maintain a positive water balance until the year 2020.

  • The implementation of Phase II of the LHWP (Polihali Dam and conveyance infrastructure) by 2020 and yield replacement by 2034 in the Orange will ensure sufficient water is available until the year 2049.

Reconciliation Perspectives:

  • Sufficient water can be made available to all users in the Vaal River System only if all the interventions reflected in Figure 1 are successful implemented.

  • Although there are currently sufficient water for supply in the short term (due to full dams), extended delays in achieving the target water saving will increase the risk of water restrictions over the long term and jeopardise sustainable supply until Phase II of the LHWP can deliver water.

Progress of the Water Quality Management Strategy and the management of Acid Mine Drainage

The AMD problem in Gauteng is being managed by a set of short term and long term interventions which look very promising.

Stage 1 of the immediate solution (the refurbishment of the water treatment plant at Rand Uranium) has been commissioned on 20 April 2012 which increased treatment capacity from 12 to 24 ML/day. The Stage 2 commissioning by the end of April 2012 will achieve the maximum capacity of ~35 ML/day. Agreements with Rand Uranium (for the positioning of the treatment plant) and Mogale Gold (positioning of the sludge disposal site) will be finalised by the end of April 2012 Short-term treatment solutions for each basin have been conceptualised and construction works in the Central and Western basins should commence in June 2012. Four bids for short-term solutions were received and the evaluation of the bids will be finalised by 20 April 2012.

The project implementing agency, TCTA, which was appointed by the DWA, will recommend plausible options to DWA that falls within the current funding (R433 million). The TCTA intends to award the bid by mid-May 2012 and construction is projected to commence by the end of May 2012.

Some of the challenges facing this project are:

  • There is only R433 million currently available while an estimated R1 billion is needed to complete the short term solution; and

  • Access to land for the placement of the water treatment infrastructure is limited and currently being negotiated with the relevant mines by TCTA.

The DWS appointed Aurecon SA, SRK Consulting and Turner Townsend as lead consultants on 30 January 2012 to investigate and recommend a feasible long term solution to the AMD problems emerging in the study area, in order to ensure long term water supply security and continuous fitness for use of Vaal River water.

Meetings have been held with key stakeholders such as the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, Universities, Rand Water, Treasury, etc. The first Study Stakeholder Committee meeting was held in May 2006.

Desalination of AMD is driven by the possible reduced assurance of supply in the VRS that will be caused by excess releases from Vaal Dam for dilution purposes and this leads to the need to implement the long term solution by 2014/15. Because there is a serious risk of delays if conventional project implementation processes are followed after the completion of the Feasibility Study, alternate fast-tracked implementation methods will be needed.

A feasible solution (one that is environmentally sustainable, technically sound, economically viable, institutionally feasible and legally acceptable) is being sought as a matter of urgency.

The aim of the IWQM Strategy is:

  • Maintaining or improving the water quality of the water resources within the VRS for the benefit of all recognised water users and beneficial water uses in order to assist in securing ecologically sustainable development, while also promoting justifiable social and economic development;

  • Managing the water resources of the VRS in order to comply with the determined integrated Resource Water Quality Objectives (RWQOs);

  • Controlling the salinity, eutrophication and microbiological contamination levels in the VRS, and major tributaries, as the key water quality issues identified;

  • Improving source management controls and measures as a means to limit and control point and diffuse sources that significantly impact on the water resources of the System; and

  • Improving management of the water resources of the VRS by more effective monitoring, assessment, reporting and management participation.

Summary of salinity status:

  • Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) data limited in places;

  • General reduction in TDS concentrations (95th %tile measured over a period of 10 months minimum) in the Bloemhof Dam from 601 mg/l in 2005 to 482 mg/l in 2011. (It is suspected that this is due to the limited mine water discharges during this period);

  • Vaal Barrage and Middle Vaal improvement due to mine discharges stopping; and

  • The Level 1 RWQOs are met in most instances.

Summary of nutrients status:

  • Phosphate data are limited;

  • Average phosphate concentrations are high;

  • The upper reaches of the Vaal River is in an oligotrophic state;

  • Vaal Dam has deteriorated;

  • Vaal Barrage to Bloemhof Dam reach is hypertrophic and requires urgent attention; and

  • Nutrient balance studies must be undertaken to understand contributions from sources so management actions can be devised and taken.

Vaal River System Classification Study

The classification of significant water resources in the three Vaal Water Management Areas (WMAs) is on target. The goal of the study is the implementation of the Water Resource Classification System (WRCS) which aims to ensure that a balance is sought between the need to protect and sustain water resources and the need to develop and use them.

The WRCS is guided by a set of procedures grouped together into seven steps that when applied to a specific catchment, will ultimately assist in the process of maintaining a balance between protecting our water resources and using them to meet economic and social goals.

Water resources must be classified into one of the following three management classes (MC):

  • Class I water resource is one which is minimally used and the overall ecological condition of that water resource is minimally altered from its pre-development condition;

  • Class II water resource is one which is moderately used and the overall ecological condition of that water resource is moderately altered from its predevelopment condition; or

  • Class III water resource is one which is heavily used and the overall ecological condition of that water resource is significantly altered from its predevelopment condition

The purpose of this study is to implement the WRCS in the three WMAs in order to determine a suitable MC for each significant water resource.

Reconciliation Scenarios Review

The water balance and reconciliation scenarios are constantly being revised as information changes. No changes were made at the last SSC meeting of 18 April 2012 and the Strategy therefore remains as it was at the previous SSC meeting of 19 October 2011. The Strategy will be updated for discussion at the next meeting in October to include possible changes due to the risk of some of the key target dates not being met.

The following strategic interventions are vital for the future of the VRS:

  • Eradication of unlawful water use by 2013, or soon thereafter;

  • Implementation of WC/WDM (Project 15%) – achieve target savings by 2015;

  • Implementation of Phase 2 of LHWP by 2020;

  • Mine water effluent treatment and use by 2014;

  • Plan yield replacement scheme in Orange – 2034;

  • Manage uncertainties regarding the Crocodile (West) System and the Olifants System.

Crocodile (West) System Water Balance

The VRS is the source of purified water for a large portion of the urban water users located in the adjacent Crocodile West River System. The treated effluent from these urban areas represents more than 70% of the available water in the Crocodile West System and is also the intended source to augment the long term water needs of the planned energy related projects in the Lephalale Area (Waterberg Coal Fields).

The long term development plans for coal mining and electricity power generation on the Waterberg Coal Field are dynamic and Figure 1 presents a summary of the water requirement scenarios that are being considered.

The Mokolo River and Crocodile West River Systems water balances are currently being revised based on the “Unconfirmed March 2012 Scenario” for the Lephalale Area. Initial calculations show that that additional raw water transfers in the form of treated wastewater will be required from the VRS to maintain a positive water balance in the Crocodile West River System over the long term.

The timing and volume of the transfers will be incorporated in the water balance and presented at the next SSC meeting.

Figure 1: Water Requirement Scenarios Lephalale Area 

Risk Analysis 

Scenarios were evaluated for flushing releases from the Vaal Dam for algae management in and downstream of the Vaal Barrage. It was found that releases of about 26 million cubic metres per annum are possible without affecting the date when Phase 2 of the LWHP will be required. Releases were however not made due to changes in the environmental conditions on the river as well as precautions taken to protect the construction of a weir in the affected river reach.

Information under review 

  • Revised water use figures for the 2011/2012 planning year are being collected and summarised for monitoring purposes;

  • The final results from the verification study will be applied to the scenarios when available;

  • The Orange River Reconciliation Strategy Study has been commissioned to determine the best long term water management solutions that will ensure both the Vaal and Orange systems have sufficient water for the next thirty years; and

  • Revision of long term water requirements and return flow scenarios with data from Census 2011 is recommended.



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