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Katse, Mohale dams levels worry LHDA

Pascalinah Kabi

THE Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) says it is worried about the decreasing water levels at the Katse and Mohale Dams due to climate change and tempering of wetlands.

Water levels at Katse Dam currently stand at 480 million cubic metres. This is less than the 1 billion cubic metres that were forecasted had the country experienced normal rains in the past rainy seasons.

The disturbance of wetlands, whose water directly flows into dams, has also compounded the situation for the two dams.

The two dams fall under the first phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).

Katse Dam is situated in the Malibamatšo River, three kilometres downstream from where the Bokong River enters the main stream. The dam, which supplies water to South Africa as per the LHWP 1986 Treaty, has been hailed as a major international undertaking and is now the highest dam in Africa with a height of 185m.

But the changing climatic conditions and disturbance of wetlands in the highlands are continuously threatening the dam’s water levels.

Addressing a meeting with editors recently, the authority said it was worried about the decreasing water levels in the dams and that the massive disturbances of wetlands were worsening the situation.

“Our forecast indicates that the water levels at Katse Dam were supposed to be at approximately 1 billion cubic metres but as we speak, it is only 480 million cubic metres; far below what we had expected it to be during the normal rainy season,” LHDA Divisional Manager for Development and Operations Reentseng Molapo said.

Mr Molapo added: “It is a worrying situation because the drought has (negatively) affected the water levels at these two dams”.

On his part, LHDA Social Development and Environment Divisional Manager Mahase Thokoa said it has always been anticipated that the project would have both social and environmental impacts.

“It was identified when the feasibility was being undertaken that when this kind of a project is implemented in Lesotho, it is going to have such major impacts.

“However, it was agreed that there has to be a strategy that needs to be developed to address any kind of impact that will be identified and we had an environmental action plan that was put in place,” Mr Thokoa said.

He said the treaty also anticipated that there will be impacts and that they should try all means possible to maintain the standard of living of the affected communities.

He also said that the treaty also committed the LHDA to compensate the villagers should there be any losses that would be encountered.

“But I think you have to be aware that it is not every impact that has to be compensated. First, there has to be efforts to mitigate such an impact before you can think about compensation the reason for which we are here talking about compensating losses in the event that the mitigation is not adequate.

“The treaty also notes that when this kind of project is implemented, where the environment is going to be disturbed, we have to ensure that that quality of the environment gets to be maintained. It also talks about the maintenance of the welfare of the communities which is linked to the standard of living,” he said.

In the same treaty under Article 10, Mr Thokoa said there was a commitment that there has to be conservation of the environment as well as maintaining the standard of living. He said that there was a budget set aside to address these two specific impacts.

He said the Phase II Agreement has also made reference to the Article 7 and 15 of the Treaty which talk about the maintenance of welfare of the communities.

“As I said earlier…we had to put together the strategy packaged under the environmental action plan. The plan talks about four different plans – compensation and resettlement, natural environment, provision for development for the communities and public health programmes.

“Under environment and heritage, LHDA has got specific programmes that it is undertaking to promote awareness and ensure that the disturbed area gets rehabilitated and conservation programmes are undertaken.

“So, for us to achieve this, we are implementing the Integrated Catchment Management but we also ensure that the water that we transfer to South Africa is that of good quality, we have an obligation to continuously monitor the quality of water which is coming from the catchments that we have to manage.

“Therefore, for us to determine even the effectiveness of the measures that we are implementing in managing the environment, we had to undertake the water quality assessment on regular basis. Of course, I think you will agree with me that the source of water that we get is coming from the wetlands and you would also agree with me that some of them (wetlands) are in a very bad state as we speak,” Mr Thokoa said.

He also said that they were also working hard to ensure that as they provide adequate water in the downstream of the dam walls. He said that they are also working hard to ensure that the impounded rivers are well maintained so that there is provision of enough water.

“As a result of this, we have taken an opportunity to develop the aqua-culture farming. You can imagine the kind of pressure that our wetlands are objected to and the level of degradation that they are undergoing and these wetlands are supposed to be the source of water that we are collecting in our reservoirs,” he said.

He said the programmes being undertaken by the authority are meant to mitigate some of the negative impacts; adding that they normally take the form of biological or physical interventions.

In terms of the biological interventions, he said they were now implementing grass sodding and that they have reintroduced some of the indigenous plants as well as promoting the income generation for the communities.

Mr Thokoa also encouraged the communities to also grow fruit trees and that they were working to also arrest the collapse and the expansion of the dongas as well as stabilising erosion.

He said that the authority has since engaged a consultant to investigate the extent to which key wetlands to the dams have been disturbed and that the results will give birth to a comprehensive rehabilitation programme for such wetlands.

Mr Thokoa said they are working with the Department of Water on Integrated Catchment Management.

Although Mr Thokoa said they had not yet established the extent of the relationship between the disturbed wetlands and the decreasing water levels at the dam, he said that the country was losing the input in the banks.

“We have come to accept that when it comes to social and environmental issues, there has to be careful planning and also there has to be a rigorous process to manage the complaints. However, I think compensation and resettlements are critical issues and these are being guided by clear policies and procedures.

“The treaty states that nobody should be left worse off hence we are committed to taking care of environmental conservation and to deliver livelihood programmes and to compensate people accordingly,” Mr Thokoa said.

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