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DECISION SUPPORT PHASE  Newsletter 1 - November 2001

Tukela River Reserve Determination
Entering the Decision Support Phase
A new chapter in the Thukela River

Historical overview of the TWP

Ensuring that South Africa has sustainable water resources is constantly at the forefront of the Department of Water Affairs & Forestry (DWAF). In this regard, the Thukela Water Project (TWP) is one of many projects across the country in which the DWAF is investigating development options to  augment supplies to strategically important areas.

For a number of years now, the DWAF has been investigating various options for the augmentation of water supplies to the Vaal River System for the period after the completion of Phases 1A and 1B of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. One option that has merit is the transfer of additional water from the Thukela River catchment to the Vaal River System, utilising existing pumping infrastructure and capacity of the Drakensberg Pumped Storage Scheme. This option has become known as the Thukela Water Project and comprises two large storage dams (one each in the Thukela and Bushman's Rivers), linking aqueducts (either open canals or steel pipelines from the new dams to Kilburn Dam) and various infrastructure components necessary to operate the system.

To date, Interested and Affected Parties (I&APs) have been involved in various TWP study phases, viz. the Reconnaissance, Pre-feasibility and Feasibility Studies. This involvement has greatly assisted the TWP study teams to better understand the environment and potential impacts of the proposed project.

A key outcome of the Feasibility Study is that the further development of the water resources of the Thukela River catchment holds merit. However, from recent work undertaken by the DWAF in compiling a National Water Resources Strategy, it would appear that augmentation to the Vaal River System is not required for a decade or so. This means that the previous urgency with which TWP investigations were conducted, has diminished and has necessitated the DWAF to reconfigure the TWP Decision Support Phase (DSP).

The TWP DSP comprises two main elements:

  • Determination of the Reserve for the Thukela River and its main tributaries.
  • Additional environmental investigations to better define the environmental feasibility of the TWP.
While the Reserve Determination will be undertaken over a period of three years, additional environmental investigations are expected to last for six months only. Once these environmental investigations have been completed, the TWP as an entity will be shelved until a later time. In contrast, the Reserve Determination will continue in fulfilment of the requirements of the National Water Act.

In both cases, public involvement will build on that already undertaken by the DWAF during previous study phases. Similarly, as with the TWP Feasibility Study, activities comprising the TWPDSP will be managed by a Project Management Team.

DETERMINING THE RESERVE

Understanding the nature of the Thukela River System:

TWP studies are undertaken in accordance with the provisions of the National Water Act (No 36, 1998). One of the most important aspects of the Act is the protection of all water resources and the assurance that there are measures in place to achieve this. One of these measures is the setting of the Reserve, viz. meeting basic human needs and ensuring ecosystem protection. The Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry sets this Reserve after giving the public the opportunity  to  comment.

It is important to note that the Act makes provision for the following priorities in the use of water:

  • Meeting the Reserve requirements.
  • International obligations.
  • The allocatable resources for all other water users (including water transfers). These users require authorisation through licensing.
The focus of the TWP is the transfer of water from the Thukela River System. Therefore, it is important to understand how much water is required to maintain the Reserve and how much will be available for other uses including inbasin users and transfers. Determining the Reserve will play an important role in the design and management of the proposed TWP scheme and is a key component of the Decision Support Phase.

As the RD process has not been developed yet, the process being followed will resolve in a signing off of a Preliminary Reserve. The process has been designed to be easily converted into a Final Reserve to be promulgated by the Minister.

The main objective of the RD study is to determine and recommend to the DWAF the Reserve requirements of the various reaches of the Thukela River and its main tributaries, from source to the river mouth. Broadly speaking, the

Study focus, on determining the quantity and quality of the water in the Thukela River system, will involve investigations into matters such as river flows, quality, fish, social importance, riparian  vegetation and aquatic invertebrates.
 
According to the National Water Act (36 of 1998), a Reserve is defined as the quantity and quality of water required to:

a. Satisfy basic human needs by securing a basic  water supply, 
as prescribed under the Water Services Act (108 of 1997),
for people who are now or who will, in the reasonably
near future, be relying upon, taking water from; or
being supplied from the relevant water resource; and
b. protect aquatic ecosystems in order to secure ecologically sustainable developments and use of the relevant water resource.

STUDY PROCESS

To achieve the objective of the Reserve Determination Study, a careful, systematic programme will be implemented. Although the process, milestones and concepts will be explained in forthcoming newsletters, it is important to note that the study team will focus on the following aspects:

  • Identifying river reaches and research sites.
  • Understanding what the river would have looked like historically (Reference Conditions).
  • Understanding the present state (social & ecological and quantity & quality) of the Thukela River and important tributaries.
  • Understanding reasons for the changes.
  • Determining how stakeholders would like to see the river system functioning in the future.
  • Determining what impact this would have on the river system.
  • Making recommendations on the Reserve.
This process is illustrated in the accompanying figure.

CONSULTING WITH STAKEHOLDERS

The Minister will only consider the recommended Reserve if this has been reached through stakeholder consultation. Thus, it is important that stakeholders understand the nature of the Thukela River

System and the importance of a balance between long-term protection for sustainability and satisfying development needs. While the Reserve Determination study teams will present various scenarios, stakeholders can contribute to the study by commenting meaningfully and reaching consensus on acceptable levels of protection for the river system.

While planning the various channels through which stakeholders will be able to participate in this study, the Public Involvement Consultant took note of the following:

  • The need to avoid stakeholder fatigue by not over consulting.
  • The study area encompasses the entire Thukela River catchment.
  • Existing Stakeholder Structures, such as TWP Working Groups, will be incorporated into new structures.
  • A DWAF initiative to establish a Thukela Catchment Management Agency is currently underway. These stakeholder groups will be used as a basis for the stakeholder consultation process for the RD study.
  • Capacity building will form an integral component of the Public Involvement Programme and will occur in parallel with Reserve Determination activities. Capacity building will focus on Water Resources Management, river awareness and concepts related to the Reserve  Determination study. Through this it is hoped that stakeholders will be empowered to participate meaningfully in  the RD study.
During the next few months, stakeholders will be informed through newsletters and personal letters of the intended consultation process and provided clear guidelines as to how they can participate in this study.
 
"It is important that stakeholders are equipped with 
skills that will enable them to participate 
meaningfully in this study" 

Toriso Tlou, Assistant Project Manager.

RESERVE DETERMINATION STUDY PROCESS
 
 

ANTICIPATED SCHEDULE OF STAKEHOLDER MEETING
 
MEETING FOCUS DATE
River Reach Forum
Sub Group Meeting 1
Capacity Building
Water Resource Management
River Awareness
December 2001
to 
February 2002
River Reach Forum
Sub Group Meeting 2
Capacity Building
Present State and Desired Future State
May 2002
to
June 2002
River Reach Forum
Sub Group Meeting 3 - Round 1
Capacity Building
Pre-confirmation of Management Classes
January 2003
to
February 2003
River Reach Forum
Sub Group Meeting 3 - Round 2
Capacity Building
Pre-confirmation of Management Classes
March 2003
to
April 2003
River Reach Forum
Sub Group Meeting 4
Capacity Building
Confirmation of Management Classes
November 2003
to
December 2003
River Reach Forum
Meeting 1
RD Launch
Prepare for Present State and Desired Future State
Introduce Stakeholder Reference Group (SRG)
February 2002
River Reach Forum
Meeting 2
Present State and Desired Future State
Nominated SRG Representatives
June 2002
River Reach Forum
Meeting 3
Pre-confirmation of Management Classes May 2003
River Reach Forum
Meeting 4
Confirmation of Management Classes October 2003
to
November 2003
Stakeholder Reference Group
Meeting 1
Present State and Desired Future State August 2002
Stakeholder Reference Group
Meeting 2
Pre-confirmation of Management Classes June 2003
Stakeholder Reference Group
Meeting 3
Confirmation of Management Classes October 2003


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