HISTORY OF THE ORANGE RIVER PROJECT

The Orange River and its major tributary, the Vaal River, convey nearly 23 % of the total surface water of South Africa. Considering the generally dry climatic conditions characterising the sub-continent, it is essential for this fresh water resource to be utilized to the greatest benefit of the country and its people, including those of Namibia.

The pioneer in the development of the water resources of the Orange River was Dr AD Lewis, one of the first administrative heads of the then Department of Irrigation (now the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry). As a result of recurring droughts in the Eastern Cape, Lewis, as early as 1928, broached the idea of building a tunnel from a point near Bethulie underneath the Suurberg Plateau to convey Orange River water via the Teebusspruit and the Brak River to eventually reach the Great Fish River valley.

This concept was followed up in 1944 when field surveys and drilling were initiated. This resulted in a report to the Government in 1948 which proposed a project comprising amongst others, a diversion dam on the Orange River as well as a diversion canal and tunnel underneath the divide to the Great Fish River valley, with a branch canal to the Sundays River valley. The first White Paper on the project was tabled in Parliament in 1951 and the actual development was started soon thereafter.

The developments associated with the Orange River are currently spread over six of the nine provinces of the country, namely Northern Cape, North West, Gauteng, Orange Free State and Eastern Transvaal. Orange River water currently supplies water to consumers in an area from Bloemfontein in the East to Port Elizabeth in the South and Alexander Bay at the river mouth in the West. The first water from the Lesotho Highlands Water Project was transferred to the Vaal River basin in October 1997 for testing purposes and the first main supplies are scheduled for 1998.

 

THE ORANGE RIVER PROJECT

As a result of the population explosion and accompanying development, the country's needs, including the demand for water, are continually increasing.

A project initially referred to as the Orange River Project was developed to utilize the water of the Orange River for extensive irrigation schemes, for the generation of hydro-electric power and for urban supply, thus providing for the increasing demand for water and food. The developments that have taken place in the Orange River basin are now so complex and inter-dependent that the term Orange River Project is no longer used although much of the earlier documentation and White Papers still refer to it.

The original main aims of the ORP were:-

The project would thus:-

Since 1961, the objectives and the planning of the project have been reviewed from time to time due to the changing circumstances and priorities within the Orange River basin and surrounding catchments. Such replanning is normal for a large project of this nature which is developed over a number of decades.

Further planning of the ORP was undertaken to evaluate the water requirements and available resources in the Orange River as well as the impact of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project on these resources. In this regard, a full system analysis of the Orange River was started in 1987 and completed in 1993. This initial study was called the Orange River System Analysis was subsequently updated by the Orange River Replanning Study which was started in 1994 and completed in 1998. Further studies are continually being carried out to investigate specific development options in a continuous effort to plan the efficient use of Orange River water. The quantity of water available for development in the orange River is constantly being assessed and other aspects such as the influences of further developments on the water quality and environment are also being analysed.

 

 Main Features of the ORP

A summary of the main features of the Orange River Project are given below. Deatails of each component can be found in the relevant section by simply clicking on the component of interest.