Southern Africa: Lesotho Resumes Water Transfers to SA

3 December 2019

Lesotho has resumed transferring water to South Africa amid concerns about the adverse effects of climate change in the Katse and Mohale dams.

The LHDA stopped pumping water to South Africa and generating electricity for domestic consumption at 'Muela Hydropower Station on 1 October 2019 to make way for maintenance works.

LHDA divisional manager (development and operations), Reentseng Molapo, this week told the media that the two-months maintenance project had been completed successfully.

The maintenance works were jointly done by the LHDA and its other partner implementing agency, the Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority (TCTA).

The maintenance works had completely cut off water transfer to South Africa and power generation within Lesotho.

About 50 percent of Lesotho's power consumption is produced locally at 'Muela Hydropower Station, which produces about 72 megawatts (MW), with the remainder imported from South Africa and Mozambique. South Africa accounts for 30 percent of Lesotho's power imports with Mozambique contributing 20 percent.

And Mr Molapo this week said the authority would on Sunday resume both transfers of water to South Africa and power generation for Lesotho. He however said they were operating from a critical baseline due to the current climatic conditions that had severely affected water levels at Mohale and Katse dams. The two dams were at very low levels and it was hoped significant rains would be received soon.

Water levels had only slightly increased in the Katse Dam because of the current water transfer from Mohale to the Katse Reservoir and the little rains received recently.

"We are still concerned that there is no rain and we are praying to have some rain in the near future... ," said Mr Molapo.

"As we speak, Katse has risen from about 10 percent prior to the transfer (from Mohale)... and it is now around 16 percent. Hopefully, it will be around 18-20 percent when we start to deliver water through to South Africa on Sunday."

Mohale was only about 23 percent full. Mr Molapo said these conditions were very unfavourable and they would only be happy if both dams were at least 60 or 70 percent full.

"We are operating at levels where we are all anxious, praying and waiting for the rain to come... .," he said.

He said they were monitoring the daily water levels in the dams and reporting them to their principals for appropriate decision making. Despite the critical circumstances prevailing, they could not abruptly stop transfers because people still needed water.

A similar outage for maintenance had been done in 2012. It was during that year that the Authority had planned to redo similar maintenance work this year.

He said the maintenance work involved the replacement of the bypass guard valve at the 'Muela Hydropower Station and the replacement of the Ngoajane Flow Measuring Equipment, among other things. They had also undertaken normal routine works at the 'Muela Hydropower Station. All activities had been successfully completed as planned.

"All the works that were intended to be undertaken were all finished on 15 November 2019. We started filling the transfer tunnel from Katse intake all the way to 'Muela Hydropower station last week.

"Yesterday we started to raise the 'Muela Dam to get it ready to fill the delivery tunnel and we are going to undertake that until Saturday. We will start generation of power and water transfer on 1 December as planned," Mr Molapo said.

He said Lesotho had met its obligation of water transfer of 700m cubic metres to South Africa as planned in the previous year. Normally the targeted volumes of water transfers in previous years was 780m cubic meters annually. But because of the increasing adverse climate conditions that have seen many drought seasons, the figure had been revised to 700m cubic meters.

This year, the Authority had already increased the monthly volumes of transfers between January and September to cater for the two-month shut down period. Even though Lesotho would not get any monthly royalties for the two months that it had not delivered water, the increased volumes before the shutdown should compensate for any shortfalls.

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