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Thukela Water Project --> Background


Since 1994 the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) has been investigating options for augmenting supplies of water to the Vaal River System (VRS). Investigations were originally conceived as the Vaal Augmentation Planning Study (VAPS) and involved evaluations of alternative inter-basin transfers of water from four catchments to the VRS. Included as part of the VAPS was the Tugela Vaal Transfer Scheme (TVTS) which, at a pre-feasibility level of detail, proved to be a favoured option worthy of additional investigation. This led to the commissioning of the Thukela Water Project (TWP) Feasibility Study in December 1996.

The Thukela Water Project Feasibility Study was designed to evaluate all factors which may affect the viability of development proposals on the Thukela River to a sufficient level of detail to:

  • Identify all the issues likely to affect implementation and to define and evaluate all of the actions required to address these issues.
  • Provide an estimate of cost with sufficient accuracy and reliability to ensure that management decisions can be made with confidence.

For a variety of reasons, such as the changing legislative environment in water resource and environmental management during the course of the study, it became apparent that the TWP Feasibility Study would not deliver unqualified development proposals complying in all respects with the National Water Act, No. 36 of 1998, and the National Environmental Management Act, 1998. This has necessitated additional investigations, originally planned to occur prior to the commissioning of Detailed Design and Project Implementation. This led to the definition of a TWP Decision Support Phase comprising a number of inter-related components. However, in the past, it was thought that additional water would be required in the VRS in the foreseeable future. This is no longer the case and a longer-term planning horizon has been adopted. By implication, components of the Decision Support Phase have been modified to address only those aspects that can be considered temporally definitive. As such, the Decision Support Phase, as presently configured, comprises:

  • Environmental Reserve Determination as required by the National Water Act, No. 36 of 1998. The study will enable the available transferable yield to the Vaal River System to be confirmed.
  • Limited additional environmental investigations to obtain greater confidence in feasibility study findings.
  • On-going Public Involvement Programme (PIP) commensurate with the level of activities comprising the Decision Support Phase.

Activities comprising the Decision Support Phase will be managed by the DWAF, with the direct assistance of a Project Management Team (PMT).

Overview of the Thukela River Catchment

The Thukela River rises in the Drakensberg Mountains near Bergville where peaks rise to over 3 000 m amsl. The river flows eastwards to discharge into the Indian Ocean about 95 km north of Durban. Major tributaries include the Little Thukela, Klip, Bushman’s, Sundays, Mooi and Buffalo Rivers (the latter being the largest).

The Thukela Catchment has a total area of approximately 29 000 km2 and an undeveloped (virgin condition) Mean Annual Runoff (MAR) of 3 865 x 10(6) m3. The MAR expressed as average unit runoff is about 133 mm which is equivalent to 16% of the Mean Annual Precipitation (MAP) of 840 mm. However, MAP varies from more than 1 500 mm in the Drakensberg to 500 mm and less in the dry central regions of the basin.

Although there are a few large dams and numerous smaller ones in the Thukela River System, they are mainly located in the upper reaches of the Thukela River itself and in some of its tributaries. For the most part, the Thukela River remains comparatively unregulated. Water resource developments within the catchment are generally small and relate primarily to the needs of individual towns. The largest components of existing water development infrastructure are those associated with four inter-basin transfer schemes:

  • The Tugela-Vaal Project through which water is transferred via the Drakensberg Pumped Storage Scheme to Sterkfontein Dam in the Vaal River Catchment.
  • The Zaaihoek Scheme through which water is transferred to Majuba Power Station and the Grootdraai Dam in the Vaal River Catchment.
  • The Mooi-Mgeni Scheme through which water will be transferred to Midmar Dam in the Mgeni River.
  • The Thukela-Mhlatuze Scheme through which water is transferred to Goedetrouw Dam near Richards Bay.

The Mooi-Mgeni Scheme was originally built as an emergency scheme during the drought of the early 1980s. Although it was mothballed when the drought broke, it has since been re-commissioned and plans are now underway to increase the capacity of the scheme.

The proposed TWP, will transfer approximately 15m3/s of additional water through the existing Drakensberg Pumped Storage Scheme into Sterkfontein Dam from the proposed Jana Dam in the Thukela River and Mielietuin Dam in the Bushman’s River.

Background to the Public Involvement Process
In line with the DWAF's commitment to transparency and open communication, public involvement has been a central component of all studies (VAPS, TVTS and TWP) and all study phases (Reconnaissance, Pre-feasibility and Feasibility), from 1994 to the present. Although primarily focussed on the source catchment, i.e. the Thukela Catchment, public involvement has incorporated approximately 1 000 Interested and Affected Parties (I&APs) and has occurred via a range of methodologies including advertising (national, provincial and local), media releases, stakeholder meetings, direct stakeholder interaction, poster displays, pamphlets and newsletters.

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