The Orange River and its major tributary, the Vaal River, convey
nearly 23 % of the total surface water of South Africa. Considering the generally dry
climatic conditions characterising the sub-continent, it is essential for this fresh water
resource to be utilized to the greatest benefit of the country and its people, including
those of Namibia.
The pioneer in the development of the water resources of the Orange River was
Dr AD Lewis, one of the first administrative heads of the then Department of
Irrigation (now the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry). As a result of recurring
droughts in the Eastern Cape, Lewis, as early as 1928, broached the idea of building a
tunnel from a point near Bethulie underneath the Suurberg Plateau to convey Orange River water via the Teebusspruit and the Brak River to
eventually reach the Great Fish River valley.
This concept was followed up in 1944 when field surveys and drilling were initiated.
This resulted in a report to the Government in 1948 which proposed a project comprising
amongst others, a diversion dam on the Orange River as well as a diversion canal and
tunnel underneath the divide to the Great Fish River valley, with a branch canal to the
Sundays River valley. The first White Paper on the project was tabled in Parliament in
1951 and the actual development was started soon thereafter.
The developments associated with the Orange River are currently spread over six of the
nine provinces of the country, namely Northern Cape, North West, Gauteng, Orange Free
State and Eastern Transvaal. Orange River water currently supplies water to consumers in
an area from Bloemfontein in the East to Port Elizabeth in the South and Alexander Bay at the river mouth in the West. The first water from
the Lesotho Highlands Water Project was transferred to the Vaal River basin in October 1997 for testing purposes and the first
main supplies are scheduled for 1998.
THE ORANGE RIVER PROJECT
As a result of the population explosion and accompanying development, the country's
needs, including the demand for water, are continually increasing.
A project initially referred to as the Orange River Project was developed to utilize
the water of the Orange River for extensive irrigation schemes, for the generation of
hydro-electric power and for urban supply, thus providing for the increasing demand for
water and food. The developments that have taken place in the Orange River basin are now
so complex and inter-dependent that the term Orange River Project is no longer used
although much of the earlier documentation and White Papers still refer to it.
The original main aims of the ORP were:-
The project would thus:-
- increase the value of the South African agricultural production;
- make provision for the establishment of a large number of irrigation
- stimulate the production of meat, wool, milk, lucerne, cotton, wheat,
raisins, dried beans and peas, both in the Orange River basin and elsewhere;
- promote economic activity and development in the areas directly involved;
- counteract the migration of the rural population to the cities by
creating stable farming communities;
- create recreation facilities in the centre of the interior and promote
- level off moderate flood peaks in the course of the river and in the
process safeguard riparian communities and irrigation schemes downstream.
Since 1961, the objectives and the planning of the project have been reviewed from time
to time due to the changing circumstances and priorities within the Orange River basin and
surrounding catchments. Such replanning is normal for a large project of this nature which
is developed over a number of decades.
Further planning of the ORP was undertaken to evaluate the water requirements and
available resources in the Orange River as well as the impact of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project on these resources. In this
regard, a full system analysis of the Orange River was started in 1987 and completed in
1993. This initial study was called the Orange River System Analysis was subsequently
updated by the Orange River Replanning Study which was started in 1994 and completed in
1998. Further studies are continually being carried out to investigate specific
development options in a continuous effort to plan the efficient use of Orange River
water. The quantity of water available for development in the orange River is constantly
being assessed and other aspects such as the influences of further developments on the
water quality and environment are also being analysed.
Main Features of the ORP
A summary of the main features of the Orange River Project are given below. Deatails of
each component can be found in the relevant section by simply clicking on the component of