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Katse shutdown hits Lesotho’s pocket

  • Water supply to SA shut down for two months
  • Lesotho to lose out on income from royalties
  • Generation of power to go down as well

The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) put to rest speculations on the economic implications of the Katse Dam shutdown, when it announced this week that both monthly royalties and power generation will indeed be disrupted.

The Dam, which is the centrepiece of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase I, has seen its water levels drop drastically to 15 percent in recent weeks, prompting LHDA to stop water delivery to South Africa on Monday this week. The delivery of water will resume in December 2019.

According to the department of water affairs’ principal hydrologist, Billy Makakole, the Katse Dam level of water as recorded on September 8 was sitting at 2005.497 metres above sea level (masl). This translates to a volume of 254.60 million cubic meters (mcm), which is only 16.76 percent of Katse Dam’s full supply level.

While South Africa is faced with shortage of water, basically for Gauteng, and residents are being warned to conserve water, Lesotho is on the other hand feeling the pinch as Mohale Dam is currently not producing any electricity and the country is now dependent on electricity bought from South African utility company Eskom.

According to Makakole, the 32.5 percent full level of Mohale Dam is also impacting on the generation of power, which means that Lesotho currently does not generate enough power.

“The flow in Lesotho rivers and reservoirs had been low since October 2012, very low in 2015 and extremely low in 2018, thus the situation kept worsening after 2012.

“It is seen from the trajectory that the reservoir shows a normal oscillation pattern where the level will increase during the wet season and fall during the dry winter months. The reservoir levels were not able to recover since April 2015. The situation worsened in 2017 where the trajectory totally remained far below the long term levels,” Makakole said.

He further indicated that despite the high flows that Lesotho experienced during the past high flows season the country did not receive enough flows, hence why Katse Dam is critically going down. The river flows were doing fine although they are now approaching a critical condition. Through measurements that were done on September 2 and 9 2019 respectively, the two rivers, Senqu and Mohokare still have flow of water, albeit very small.

LHDA’s public relations manager, Masilo Phakoe, confirms that the water level is as low as 15 percent. “The country has been hit by severe droughts from 2015 with little snow and rain which make up the bulk of the water in the Katse Dam. This can be attributed to the El Nino, a weather pattern characterised by extreme heat and drought and extreme wetness during rainy seasons.

He added that Lesotho is feeling the pinch of low water levels in Katse because the country uses the very tunnels that transfer water to South Africa for generating electricity for her own use and export purposes. This means therefore that when there is less water being transferred there will also be less electricity generated in Lesotho for both domestic use and exporting to Eskom resulting into a reduced income for Lesotho.

This is contrary to Makakole and Lesotho Electricity Company’ s PRO Tṧepang Lelia’s claims that ‘Muela Hydropower Station is currently not generating electricity due to ‘maintenance work’ that is underway there.

He also stated that Lesotho’s revenue in royalties from the sale of water to South Africa will also be affected.

“When Lesotho is no longer able to transfer water to SA, royalties are also going to be affected by water shortages in that the LHDA’s deliveries will accordingly be reduced in order to ensure the long term reliability of supply of the water. However, when the system recovers after the reduced deliveries, the LHDA will deliver the deficit water and the lost royalties will be recovered.

“It is important to note that the water royalty payments represent the 56 percent share of the cost savings. These savings come as a result of implementing the more cost effective LHWP scheme as opposed to using the Orange Vaal Transfer Scheme (OVTS) to transfer the water to Gauteng. The OVTS scheme would have been constructed in South Africa to pump the water to Gauteng and this scheme would have been more expensive than the LHWP scheme in which the water just flows by gravity. The royalty revenue is made up of three components, the fixed component, the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) component and the electricity component. The last two are classified as variable components of the royalty revenue,” Phakoe explained the formula for calculating royalties.

On whether the levels of Katse are a result of climate change and what the treaty says about it, Phakoe indicated they do not have articles in the clause that specifically refer to climate change, but Article 14 of the LHWP Treaty guides them what should happen in cases where there is “substantial impairment of the implementation of this Treaty, caused by a ‘force majeure’ situation. This refers to unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract.

“It provides that, inter alia, “the Parties shall take necessary measure of palliation and restoration on the basis of consultation and in a spirit of co-operation, in so far as the immediate circumstances of the emergency so permit, and shall subsequently agree on a joint action.

“The Treaty further states that “force majeure” may include “any disturbance due to an extreme hydrological or other natural event including extreme drought and affecting the delivery of water to South Africa,” he said.

On the other hand, Lesotho Council on Non- Governmental Organisation’s Programme manager, Sekonyela Mapetja has decried the rate at which Lesotho is losing its natural resource (water) and the impact of non-receipt of royalties from South Africa.

“Since Lesotho decides to channel the royalties to government’s consolidated fund, the money boosts our country’s economy as it is used for infrastructure development, education, health and many other services.

“As NGO’s we have always had a problem with the quality of our water being determined by South Africa. We only rely on what they say without necessarily comparing results of their tests against our own. Quality and quantity are the ones that determine the royalties that we get and during droughts like this, it means both the quality and quantity of water go down.

 “When the remittances are affected it means people down there are also going to be affected and even if the country does not have control over climate change, we should invest in mitigation and adaptation so that we do not suffer a lot in times like this,” he said.

He also showed that the country in situations like this should work on saving money and decreasing spending while at the same time prioritising climate issues.

Do you think Lesotho is climate change–savvy?

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