Latest News! 12th December, 2019

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Katse Dam Katse Dam - Photo: Wikipedia

What's inside?

* Weather gone wild

* The perfect Christmas gift

* Exploring the Katse Dam

* Podcast - Lesotho passes

* Featured pass of the week

* Words of wisdom

Weather in full battle cry

From droughts and record high temperatures to floods. The Apiesrivier and Bronkhorstsruit in the Pretoria area are in flood and Potchefstroom has also experienced heavy rain. Many parts of the Free State and Northern Cape (including flooding in Upington) have brought welcome relief to struggling farmers and the country's dams are starting to fill. On our FaceBook page we posted a photo of a motorist crossing a flooded river at great and unnecessary risk to his life. We are assuming it's a 'he' as women just wouldnt take those risks.

We've said it a hundred times before - If you're not prepared to walk it, then don't drive it!

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Lesotho-Sani Tour (Chapter 4)

Saturday 28th September - We woke to a crisp sunny day at our overnight accommodation at the Katse Lodge. (We have just had news that the lodge will be closed for 2020 as they are doing extensive renovations). After a hearty breakfast we got everyone down to the interpretative centre above the Katse dam wall, where we had made arrangements for a guided tour at 08h30. After 10 minutes waiting there was still no guide, so we took our group down the little pass and over the bridge at the Malimabatso river and up the other side of the gorge where we were permitted to drive over the dam wall and as the guard explained to us, we were not allowed to stop on the wall unless in the company of the official guide.

Once over the wall, we located a large tarred parking area and walked back over the wall. This little excursion which is part of the official dam tour took up 30 minutes and by the time we returned to the interpretive centre, we just made the start of the talk by our guide, who had arrived half an hour late. The talk was fascinating and we all then drove down to the bottom of the wall for the tour inside the wall itself. There is strictly no photography allowed and a guard bringing up the tail end of the group ensures this is enforced.

The thickness of the wall at the base is 60m and a series of arched tunnels run in both directions as well as upward and downward by several levels. It's a little eerie inside the wall and the steady drips of water running underfoot via shallow channels do cause a sense of awareness of "what if?..."

Every 50m or so there are stainless steel measuring devices where concrete sections meet. These measure minute movements within the structure and are carefully monitored on a regular basis.

Katse Dam is Africa's second-largest double-curvature arch dam. It is part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which will eventually include five large dams in remote rural areas. It was completed in 1996 and the reservoir filled with water by 1997. The total cost of the project was US$8 billion. 

The mass of water gave rise to induced seismicity. Farmers who lost land to the project have had trouble re-establishing new livelihoods. There is little arable land in the mountains to replace all that was lost, and efforts to help them with new livelihoods have by no means been as successful as the engineering works. Due to the loss of habitat, plant rescue missions were conducted in the area to be flooded, and the Katse Botanical Gardens was established to house and propagate the plants rescued.

Water delivery officially began on 22 January 1998. The dam currently supplies about 30 cubic metres per second of water to South Africa, which pays Lesotho $35 million per year, plus a variable royalty based on calculated water usage benefits.

Water from the dam travels through a 45 km, 4 metre diameter tunnel, exiting at a hydroelectric station near Muela. The dam's high elevation allows a gravity flow water delivery system to South Africa, in addition to hydroelectric power for Lesotho, and this was a prime reason behind the choice of the site.

In recent years, water from the scheme has also been discharged into the Mohokare (Caledon) River to provide water to Lesotho's capital Maseru in times of shortages. The new dams have filled as anticipated and discharge of water from the dams into the downstream rivers continues in a scheme devised to preserve ecological balances. This discharged water flows to the Senqu (Orange) River, and whilst preserving the ecological status quo, it benefits only those communities along the rivers. A scheme to provide water supplies to displaced Highland farmers has not been very successful.

All the major rivers of landlocked Lesotho are well-stocked with the finest trout, and with the exception of the Tugela, flow west into the Atlantic Ocean. (The Orange River starts as the Senqu River near Cathedral Peak). The Lesotho Highlands Water Project has changed all this, with water now being diverted north by gravity. 

On the way to Katse the road passes the intake tower near Ha Lejone from where the crystal-clear water starts its long journey, at 18 cubic metres per second, encased in the 82-kilometre tunnel through basalt, sandstone and under six rivers, and through turbines at Muela. 

It eventually tumbles into the Ash River, between Clarens and Bethlehem, then into the Liebenbergs Vlei River, which joins the Wilge River near Frankfort before finally reaching the Vaal Dam. Five massive T.B.Ms (tunnel boring machines) were used in the construction phase. 

Future phases are planned to increase the supply to 70 cubic metres per second. The bridge near the intake tower has also received acclaim, rising 90 metres above the bed of the Malibamatso River. (Incidentally, this is one of the few straight stretches of road). The scheme attracted worldwide attention for its concept, its magnitude and for the engineering feats involved, not least of which is the fully tarred, 150-kilometre access road from Ficksburg. 

It traverses three magnificent passes, the highest being, the 3,090 metre high Mafika Lisiu Pass. The flora, bird life and photographic beauty of the area will astound, as will the winter snow, which has no equal in Southern Africa.The statistics are startling indeed. 687,000 tons of cement and fly-ash were hauled from Ficksburg by a fleet of 26 trucks which covered in excess of 7.2 million kilometres. The double curvature, arch dam is 185 metres high, (the highest in Africa and 50% higher than Kariba), with a crest length of 710 metres. 

All major critical components of concrete manufacture were duplicated, including the ice plant used in summer for cooling the curing concrete, the steam plant for winter, the batching plant (with dual computer systems ), and the two Blondin cableway cranes, used to deliver the concrete day and night at a rate of 6,000 cubic metres per 20 hour shift. A further dam at Mohale, together with a small weir on the Matsoku River, has virtually doubled the capacity of Katse.
Mohale is accessible through Maseru on another magnificent road. A 45-kilometre tunnel to Katse connects it. The well- maintained road allows access to the exquisite vista, but extreme caution is necessary to deal with the steep climbs and sharp curves. 

[Text written by Trygve Roberts & Mike Leicester]

[Next week our story takes us north to the Oxbow Lodge over another series of major passes]

PODCAST: A chat covering our second day of our Lesotho-Sani Tour. Click here to listen.

Featured pass of the week: This week we take a look at a little known, but visually spectacular poort on the R329 between Steytleville and Wolwefontein in the arid Karoo.

* * * * *   W A A I P O O R T    * * * * *


Trygve Roberts

Words of wisdom: "It's not whether you get knocked down - It's whether you get up" - Vince Lombardi 

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