In 1997 the Katse Dam wall over Malibamatso river was officially completed and the process of inundation started. The dam was built by the Highlands Water Venture (HWV), a consortium of seven international contractors, namely; Ibregilio from Italy as the lead company, Bouygues from France, Hochtief from Germany, Stirling and Kier from the UK, then Concor and Group 5 from RSA. Construction started in February 1991 and was completed in May 1997.
It had been expected that the dam would take up-to 2 years to fill-up after the wall completion, but the water resources of the Lesotho highlands proved much stronger, with the dam filling-up in about half the time and the water transfer starting during 1998.
Ever since the water transfer started, the dam levels have never been as low as they became in the latter part of 2016 and early 2017. This raised the prospect that the for the first time water transfer to South Africa may have to be suspend by March if there were no sustained rains in the highlands – indeed this situation gave new meaning to the Shakespearean warning: beware the ides of March!
It was feared that, if the water situation did not improve by the end of the first quarter of 2017 it would not be practically impossible to transfer water to South Africa. There is a water level below which the Katse Intake Tower would not have been able to draw water from the dam.
Given the experience of Motebong, it was always amazing reading South African media reports and listening to the various mainly Gauteng ‘talk-show’ radio programs, where it seemed that the dominant view was that there are limitless water resources in Lesotho. This impression was that there will always be enough water and it was unnecessary for households and industries to conserve water.
The fig1 shows the boat launch near Motebong lodge waterfront Lapa in January 2012, when the dam was at 101% capacity. Since then the dam levels have been dropping. This level is to be contrasted with Fig 2 from February 2013 picture of the team still shows a high water level below the Lapa.
By August 2014, the water levels had become significantly lower as Fig 3 shows, where the water level is well away from the Motebong Lapa, even though boating and fishing continued.
And yet the worst was still to come!!
By mid-September 2016, the water supply to the lodge had become truly problematic. The dam levels went below the intake pipes of the Motebong water treatment works, which resulted in various emergency measures having to be employed with temporary piping and plant being acquired as Fig below shows.
By end of December 2016 into 2017 the dam around Motebong lodge had reached alarming levels as shown on fig 4 below. The few rains that had started coming down in by mid-December had simply caused the former farm lands that had been under water when the dam was full over the last 15 years to now be overgrown by wild plants.
Since September 2016 we had not been possible to launch boats from our grounds and the neighbouring fish farm had also had to move its cages further downstream towards the dam wall. Not being able to launch boats from the grounds was a major inconvenience to the Lodge guests who had become accustomed to fishing and launching their boats from within our grounds. Guests now had to launch boats a fifteen minutes’ drive away, near the intake tower – which is not the same as being able to leave the boat and walk to one’s chalet.
Thankfully, Fig6 taken in late February shows, a much improved picture with the water covering a lot of what had now become dry ground or old farms overgrown by weeds. At this point, the pre-September 2016 water intake levels have been passed – an incredible recovery and well ahead of the feared March critical point. Once more the yield of the Lesotho highlands was proving itself!
The arrival of a recent incessant rains that accompanied a certain young lady named Dineo accelerated the rise of the already much improved water levels.
With this recovery of the dam, boats are once again being launched from the Motebong grounds and operations of the neighbouring Katse fish farm have also become that much easier.
Perhaps we can now say: the good days are at hand!