The multibillion rand, bi-national Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is one of the largest ongoing development projects in the world and widely regarded as an African success story. Since the project’s inception more than 60 years ago, we have played various key roles in the mammoth project, ranging from feasibility studies to the development of world-class initiatives that continue to improve the standard of living in the country.
The LHWP has pioneered the way for peaceful cooperation and mutually beneficial socio-economic development across the continent. In 1986, the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of South Africa signed a treaty to harness the water resources of the Lesotho Highlands to supply water to South Africa and generate power for Lesotho.
Phase 1 of the project comprised the major water transfer and hydropower components involving the construction of tunnels and dams, including the iconic 185 m-high Katse Dam, designed to divert water from the Senqu (Orange) River to the Ash River in South Africa. In 2006, the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) named the LHWP as the Most Outstanding Engineering Achievement of the Century.
Since the initial appointment, Zutari has been involved in the Phase 1 feasibility studies, design, and construction supervision of most of the Phase 1 infrastructure – including Katse Dam and all the tunnels. A subsequent feasibility study was undertaken aimed at identifying further development options and investigating the preferred option in detail, which culminated in the recommendation of the Polihali Dam and transfer tunnel for implementation. Design and procurement of construction contracts is currently underway.
Zutari is currently involved in the design and construction supervision of the Polihali Dam diversion tunnels, Polihali transfer tunnel and the Polihali major bridges contracts.
Some of the challenges of the project included overcoming the large-scale, technically complex nature of the water transfer project, working in a harsh mountain environment and pioneering new systems to manage the biophysical and social challenges of the project.
The project’s legacy not only led to short-term construction opportunities and long-term renewable energy, but Lesotho continues to receive royalties from South Africa for the water that is transferred across the border. The current annual royalty revenue will increase when Polihali is commissioned as the volume of water transferred to South Africa will increase incrementally from the current supply rate of 780 Mm³/a to more than 1 270 Mm³/a. A key element of the project included comprehensive socio-economic and environmental impact mitigation strategies.