The Komati Basin Water Authority: The power of collaboration

Africa yields many natural riches and resources, yet for much of the Continent, that most precious of all commodities is in short supply. Water is an essential element to life and the success of businesses and economies in the future are very much going to be determined by the availability of safe water supplies.

KOBWAThis challenge is of course nothing new in the sub-Sahara region and the issue has been met full-on by South Africa and the Kingdom of Swaziland for many decades, culminating in the creation of the Komati Basin Water Authority (KOBWA) – a bi-national company formed in 1993.

The Komati River Basin forms part of the Incomati River Basin shared between South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique. The Komati catchment, which comprises of the Komati River and its tributary the Lomati River, originates in the Drakensberg Mountains, situated west of the town of Carolina in the Mpumalanga Province, South Africa.

The Komati River then passes through northern Swaziland before flowing back to South Africa and joining the Crocodile River at the border with Mozambique. The Komati catchment covers an area of about 11, 209 square kilometres, which includes 1,493 square kilometres of the Lomati River.

Over the course of time water resources development and water use levels have increased, putting a lot of stress on the limited resources of the Komati River Basin. Between 1962 and 1998 no fewer than 5 dams were constructed on the Komati River Basin up stream of Mozambique, 3 in South Africa (Nooitgedacht, Vygeboom and Driekoppies Dams) and 2 in Swaziland (Maguga and Sand River Dams).

The company came into existence following the treaty on the Development and Utilization of the Water Resources of the Komati River Basin signed in 1992 between the Kingdom of Swaziland and the Republic of South Africa.

Its express purpose is to implement Phase 1 of the Komati River Basin Development Project. Phase 1 comprises the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the Driekoppies Dam in South Africa (Phase 1a) and the Maguga Dam in Swaziland (Phase 1b).

Historically, the 2 nations began to collaborate as long ago as 1948, when the first agreement on the utilization of water from the Komati River was reached.

Subsequently the Nooitgedact and Vygeboom Dams were built in the upper reaches of the Komati River in South Africa while the off-channel Sand River Dam was constructed in Swaziland.

In 1964 South Africa and Portugal signed a treaty on rivers of common interest and in 1969 South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique started with technical meetings on shared water resources while the current Tripartite Permanent Technical Committee (TPTC) was established in 1983.

In 1978 South Africa and Swaziland established a Joint Permanent Technical Committee (JPTC) which became the Joint Water Commission (JWC) when the Treaty on the development and utilization of the water resources of the Komati River Basin was signed in 1992.

Following a joint reconnaissance study of the Komati River Basin the 2 countries agreed on a long-term phased water resources development plan for the Komati River Basin.

A feasibility study for the first phase of the water resources development plan, recommended a joint development project consisting of Driekoppies Dam on the Lomati River in South Africa and the Maguga Dam on the Komati River in Swaziland, the JPTC recommended that the countries should proceed with implementation.

The Treaty on the establishment of the JWC and the development and utilization of the water resources was signed in 1992 and the Komati Basin Water Authority (KOBWA) was established in 1993.

Phase 1 of the project comprised the construction, operation and maintenance of the Driekoppies Dam on the Lomati River in South Africa and the Maguga Dam on the Komati River in Swaziland.

In accordance with the Treaty, Swaziland was allowed 2 years from signature to decide if the construction of the Maguga Dam was to proceed within Phase 1, while South Africa was allowed to proceed immediately with the construction of Driekoppies Dam. This project got underway in 1994 and was completed 3 years later.

Having reviewed a feasibility study, Swaziland began work on the construction of Maguga Dam in 1994 with construction beginning in 1996. The sod-turning for Maguga Dam was attended by His Majesty King Mswati III and the Honourable President Nelson Mandela, underlining the strong political support and will for the Project, but also the good cooperation between the riparian states in water-centred development matters.

Importantly, the construction focused on maximising local employment and promoting the use of local small and emerging contractors.

The Maguga Dam construction programme exemplified this approach, consisting of 8 different types of contract that covered:  Construction of the main access roads to the dam site; Construction of the Piggs Peak housing infrastructure; Construction of the Piggs Peak bulk water supply scheme; Main dam construction; Hydropower Planning; Environmental Planning; Planning and development of the resettlement program and Planning and construction of the host area infrastructure and development..

Community involvement was a key element of all phases and involved sourcing and training unskilled workers and the construction of a residential township in Piggs Peak.

Today KOBWA operates a Water Management Plan which sits at the core of the operation and maintenance phase of the Project. The Water Management Plan began in 1998 with the development of the System Operating Rules.

The Maguga Dam Project aims to help reduce poverty and unemployment through commercial agricultural development that targeted rural areas.

Commenting on the impact of the work that has taken place to date, the company stated on its website “KOBWA delivered with diligence and professionalism on the design and construction phases, as marked by the completion of Maguga Dam in 2002. KOBWA continues to work with stakeholders towards conclusion of resettlement matters. The model used in the resettlement of affected people in the Maguga Dam is recognized as a reference for future developments. “From 2003 KOBWA has been functioning in the operation and maintenance phases guided by rules formulated by the Inkomati System Operation Task Group (ISOTG). Once again KOBWA has to date delivered on this mandate without major incidents or deviations.”

The Komati Basin Water Authority has come a long way since its inception in 1993 however the anticipated future increase in demand for water will remain a challenge:

Although the current systems need continuous upgrading and improvement KOBWA has now reached a stage where it is important to decide how the existing infrastructure, capacity and expertise could be utilised to optimise the long-term benefits to the 2 countries:

In order to ensure that the current capacity is utilised effectively and to promote the future development of the KOBWA and its staff it is essential that horizontal and vertical expansion opportunities should be utilised.

“A prime example of vertical integration is the implementation of the socio-economic development programs like the sustainable utilisation and zoning plans for the 2 dams that will promote sustainable long-term economic growth in the project area,” it concluded.