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Thukela Water Project --> Introduction


Water is one of the most fundamental and indispensable natural resources. It is essential for life, the environment, health, food production, industry and power generation. In South Africa, water is a limited resource, the scarcity of which is exacerbated by uneven distribution, both geographically within the country and seasonally. Due to this variability there is an ever-present risk of water shortages and restrictions, with consequent limitations to social development and economic growth.

The DWAF is entrusted with the responsibility to protect, use, develop, conserve, manage and control the water resources of South Africa. Consistent with good governance and sound water resource management and planning, the DWAF is committed to the development of national strategies and policies that are aimed at conserving and developing South Africa's water resources in an integrated, rational, equitable and sustainable manner.

The provision of adequate supplies of water in the VRS has enjoyed a high priority within the DWAF for many decades. The VRS supplies water to six provinces, viz. Gauteng, Free State, Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape and Northern Province. Collectively, these areas support a major proportion of the country's population, produce more than 50% of South Africa's economic wealth, and yield 85% of South Africa's electricity supply.

Current estimates of the water resources versus demand in the VRS show that the risk of shortages becomes greater than that which is deemed reasonable to ensure economic security somewhere during the first quarter of this century.

Augmentation of the VRS water resources, therefore, becomes crucial. However, it is believed the need for augmentation can be delayed by implementing water demand management and water conservation measures to curb the excess use of water in the VRS.

In 1994, the DWAF initiated the Vaal Augmentation Planning Study (VAPS) to provide a comprehensive and sound basis for decision making by national government concerning the best means of managing and providing water supplies to the VRS. As part of ongoing water resource development and management at national level, the VAPS considered such aspects as non-augmentation, demand management, the desalination of sea water, the importation of water from sources outside South Africa, and inter-basin transfers within South Africa. One of the latter options was the regulation of surplus water in the Thukela River Basin and the transfer of approximately 15 m3/s via the existing Drakensberg Pumped Storage Scheme to the VRS.

The TWP was investigated at Reconnaissance and Pre-feasibility levels so as to inform decision making by National Government. At Pre-feasibility level of study, the TWP showed sufficient merit for the DWAF to commission a comprehensive Feasibility Study in 1996. The primary aim of the TWP Feasibility Study was to investigate all factors that might affect the viability of the development proposal. To this end, the TWP Feasibility Study was designed to provide DWAF with information and data necessary to compare further phases of the Lesotho Highland Water Project with the Thukela Water Project as possible options to augment the water resources of the VRS.

Study Approach

The TWP Feasibility Study commenced in late 1996 and took three years to complete. The study comprised 16 modules and culminated in a Main Feasibility Report supported by approximately 60 module reports, summaries and other documents (as indicated in the Structure of Reports).

Click here to go to > The Structure of Reports < for the TWP Feasibility Study

Principles of Integrated Environmental Management

Integrated Environmental Management (IEM) is a philosophy which prescribes a code of practice for ensuring that environmental considerations are fully integrated into all stages of the development process in order to achieve a balance between conservation and development. DWAF has adhered to the basic principles of IEM which include:

  • Informed decision making.
  • The adoption of a holistic understanding of the term environment that includes physical, biological, social, economic, cultural, historical and political components.
  • Thorough consideration of alternatives.
  • Democratic regard for individual rights and obligations.
  • Opportunity for public and specialist input into the decision making process.

Public Involvement

Public involvement formed a cornerstone of all previous phases as well as the TWP Feasibility Study.
The principles for public participation recommended by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism were adopted for the purposes of the TWP Feasibility Study.

These are:

  • The meaningful and timeous participation of Interested & Affected Parties.
  • A focus on important (key) issues.
  • The consideration of alternatives.
  • Accountability for information used for decision making.
  • Inclusivity.
  • Encouragement of co-regulation, shared responsibility and a sense of ownership.
  • Dispute resolution.

Within the above principles, public involvement included a number of activities. Apart from introductions to stakeholders and assistance to study team members during field work, Interested & Affected Parties were identified and their involvement in the Feasibility Study was facilitated. To facilitate participation, information was disseminated to stakeholders by a number of methods, including pamphlets, newsletters and an Internet Web Site. Where there were capacity constraints to involvement, training needs were identified and training was provided.

The programme of public involvement comprised meetings, services, products and general liaison activities. It is widely acknowledged that the public involvement programme for the TWP Feasibility Study has achieved its aims and objectives, and, importantly, has successfully applied the recommended principles of public participation. This is evidenced by key aspects such as:

  • A continuation of public involvement from the Reconnaissance and Pre-feasibility Studies, to the Feasibility Study, with an ever increasing number of stakeholders participating as development proposals were formulated and elucidated. A database of over 1 000 people and organisations has been maintained during the course of the study.
  • The provision of sufficient project information in an easily understandable manner to enable the participation of stakeholders in the formulation of project alternatives.
  • A clear and unambiguous focus on matters that were important at any time during the study, for example, the pipeline versus canal aqueduct alignments and regional development.
  • The allocation and utilisation of significant resources to consider alternatives, particularly aqueduct types and alignments.
  • Particular attention to detailed information used in decision making by the production of Technical Bulletins.
  • Technical and other assistance was given to stakeholders in the preparation of statements on their perspectives, for example, a perspective paper on the concept of a Thukela River Park.
  • As and when disputes and conflicts arose, these were dealt with as part of the public involvement programme.

After a lengthy and inclusive public involvement programme, the DWAF believes that stakeholders in the Thukela River Catchment have been afforded the opportunity to participate meaningfully during the TWP Feasibility Study. In addition, stakeholders from further afield have also participated, but to a lesser degree. Various positive and negative issues and recommendations have been raised by stakeholders. These are not statements of fact but, rather, opinions and perspectives. Importantly, they have been accommodated within the Feasibility Study where applicable, appropriate and possible.

Importantly, the Public Involvement Programme has continued beyond the end of the Feasibility Study, albeit at a lower lever of intensity. Nevertheless, a seamless interface has been achieved between the Feasibility Study and the Decision Support Phase.

Study Area

The TWP bisects the uThukela Region of KwaZulu-Natal, an area of approximately 11 000 km2 located in the north-western part of the province, between the port of Durban and Gauteng, part of the industrial heartland of the country. The Drakensberg mountain range and neighbouring Lesotho form the western boundary, the Free State, the northern boundary, and the Mzinyathi and iNdlovu Regions of KwaZulu-Natal the eastern and southern boundaries, respectively.

The uThukela District Municipality, with various Local Municipalities and Traditional Authorities, provides the institutional backbone of the region. The uThukela Region has a Gross Geographic Product of approximately R 2.1 billion which represents 2% of the economy of KwaZulu-Natal. The population of the uThukela Region is estimated to be 650 000 people (1998), which equates to approximately 7% of the population of KwaZulu-Natal. It follows that the per capita contribution to economic activity is well below the provincial average. This low level of economic activity has resulted in a small regional tax base as illustrated by the regional fiscal deficit of R 292 million in 1998.

Economic activity in the region is primarily focussed on manufacturing. The agricultural sector is mainly based on beef and game farming in the eastern and central sub-regions.

Dry land agriculture and irrigation farming occur in the upper, or western, sub-region.

Tourism and ecotourism appear to be growing economic sectors, primarily focussed on the natural beauty and splendour of the Drakensberg Mountains, game farming enterprises and white water adventure activities.
Three major dams have been constructed in the Upper Thukela Catchment, viz. Wagendrift Dam for water supply to Estcourt and Weenen, Spioenkop Dam for water supply to Ladysmith and regulating the Thukela River downstream, and Woodstock Dam for storage of water to feed into the existing transfer to the Vaal River System via the Tugela Vaal Transfer Scheme (i.e. via the Drakensberg Pumped Storage Scheme).

Ladysmith is the largest town and serves as the main administrative and economic centre.

The towns of Estcourt, Weenen, Colenso, Winterton and Bergville will also be affected by one or more of the components of the TWP.

An estimated 74% of the population of the uThukela Region is rural and relatively poor. By optimising the design and configuration of the TWP it will be possible to align and place infrastructure, such as roads, electricity transmission lines, telecommunication lines and buildings, in a manner that benefits these rural communities into the longer-term.

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