The Trans Africa Water Alliance (TAWA) consortium has announced a far reaching plan – three years in the making – to solve the looming water crisis in parts of South Africa, starting in the Western Cape. Under the leadership of Dr. Konstant Bruinette, former Chairman of the consulting team behind the acclaimed Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), the consortium’s plan uses the principle of gravity-driven pipelines to bring water to drought stricken areas.
Intrinsic to the plan is that each project will pay for itself over a number of years. TAWA comprises civil engineers, government partners and other relevant role players. Although the idea of building gravity-driven water delivery systems for Southern Africa is not new, the significant funding challenges posed have meant that these ideas have, until now, not been implemented to deliver the water required.
The 2017 water crisis in the Western Cape has prompted TAWA to promote four major pipeline projects to the Western Cape authorities, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Trans Caledon Tunnel Authority, Department of Water Affairs and Sanitation and the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission as well as authorities in Namibia, Zambia and Botswana.
The proposed major pipelines are the line from a new dam on the Orange River at Vioolsdrif to the Cape Town Metro; the line from Vioolsdrif to Swakopmund; a line from the Kunene River to outside Windhoek; and a fourth line from the Zambezi River to Eastern Botswana and South Africa.
Plans and cost estimates for four smaller pipelines have also been prepared and proposed to various water authorities. These are from the Eastern Cape’s Van Der Kloof Dam to deliver water to Port Elizabeth and then to Cape Town; a second line from Boegoeberg to Cape Town; a third from Colenso to Albert Falls and on to Durban, and lastly from western Lesotho to the Modder River to supply water to Bloemfontein.
Bruinette and his team believe these gravity lines will solve the bulk of water problems in Southern Africa. The main constraining factor for water authorities is the funding required for these projects. TAWA has responded by actively seeking funders for these long term plans.
Less cost than desalination
According to Bruinette, the most urgent project is the construction of a first phase Vioolsdrif Dam on the Orange River, and then to build a gravity-driven water delivery pipeline to the existing Voelvlei Dam, which currently supplies water to the Cape Town Metro water system.
This is so that the Western Cape no longer has to rely only on rainfall and be at the mercy of intermittent, catastrophic droughts.
The cost of the project will vary from US$2.5 billion to $4,5-billion depending on whether the Cape Town water supply quantity is expanded by 15% or to 50%.
The proposed cost is below US$1 per cubic meter which is a fraction of the cost of desalinated water and can be delivered over four years from start of the project to completion. Later phases include plans to similarly bring water to Swakopmund in Namibia, as well as other drought stricken areas of Botswana and South Africa.
Reliable and sustainable
By way of background, a gravity-driven system allows water to flow through pipelines over vast distances under the force of gravity without the use of external and costly energy sources such as pumping. Gravity-flow water delivery systems are reliable, cost-effective and can deliver large quantities of water to areas a long way from the source.
In 1986, Lesotho and South Africa signed a treaty to harness the former’s abundant water resources. Dr. Bruinette’s engineering consultancy, BKS, in a joint venture with Acres International of Canada, was then commissioned to plan, design and project manage the construction of Phase One of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).
Since then the LHWP has been acknowledged as a feat of engineering excellence, its essential achievement being the use of gravity fed tunnels and pipelines from dams to divert water from the mountains of Lesotho to water-starved Gauteng and other areas.
Dr. Bruinette explained, “This concept is not new and goes back thousands of years to Roman times. As long as the source of the water is higher in altitude than the delivery point, the water will continue to flow. The Romans successfully used aqueducts to move water over vast distances under gravity. This literally transformed civilization in Europe. Obviously, modern technology allows us to vastly improve on this ancient system.”
Questions will inevitably arise about international co-operation, funding, environmental impact and many other key issues. These will be answered.
However having worked on the scheme over the past three years, Dr. Bruinette and his partners believe the time is now for government, business, development agencies and other stakeholders to seriously consider an economically-sound and practical solution to the problem of water supply to Cape Town, and other areas in southern Africa, over the next 50 years.
“This solution is not a fantastic pipe-dream. LHWP has shown over more than 30 years that a gravity-driven water supply is a practical and economic way of solving the problem,” Dr Bruinette said.
“We are actively engaging with potential investors in South Africa, Europe, USA and the UAE and we need government, local authorities and the general public to get behind this project.” he concluded.