------ Forwarded Message
From: Morne Viljoen <mviljoen@bdz.co.za>
Date: Tue, 15 Aug 2006 08:13:59 +0200

Subject: Fresh environmental concerns over De Hoop dam

Published in http://www.engineeringnews.co.za on 2006/08/14          

Author: Bloomberg

The development of a massive dam in water-scarce Limpopo province raises concerns the government is compromising principles of sustainable development for economic progress.
 And while the construction of large dams has undoubtedly fuelled industrial growth, it has come at a cost to the environment and taxpayers, displacing communities and even changing local climates.
 Driving the De Hoop dam's construction along the Steelpoort River, a tributary of the Olifants River, is the fiscal lure of unlocking investment of up to R30-billion in new platinum mines in the province.
 Domestic water users in towns such as Polokwane and Lebowakgomo are also expected to benefit.
 Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Buyelwa Sonjica is on record as saying that people in the area would benefit directly through employment in mining and associated developments.
 "More water will enable considerable mining expansion and will bring about local employment, much needed economic growth and other benefits. It will also create the opportunity for water services providers such as municipalities, to supply domestic water to many communities," Sonjica said of the presidential-priority project.
 The dam and related projects are predicted to cost some R8-billion. The dam is one of three core projects underpinning government's attempts at achieving a six percent economic growth rate, via the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa.
 Already the first phase of the project, involving the raising of the Flag Boshielo Dam by five metres to increase capacity, was nearing completion.
 However, appeals against the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism's record of decision for De Hoop's construction have been lodged by South African National Parks, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the SA Water Caucus and other interested parties.
 "The reality of global warming is manifesting locally in severe drought situations. The Olifants River has stopped flowing for the first time in living history during 2005," said Phillip Owen of SA Water Caucus in its appeal.
 Owen said the Olifants River catchment might be stressed beyond its limit of water availability, and that the economic benefits derived from the short 50 year life cycle of the dam may not be worth the irreparable damage wrought on the integrated river system.
 Potential negative environmental impacts include the removal of valuable fauna and flora during construction and disruption to the river flow with associated impacts on aquatic and downstream users.
 Other impacts listed in an environmental assessment include social, health and safety concern related to an expected increase of employment seekers, informal traders, prostitution, traffic congestion and the potential loss of cultural heritage.
 According to environmental lawyer Robyn Stein, the public trust doctrine in the National Water Act makes the central government the public trustee in the managing and protecting of water resources.
 "It requires that the principles of equity and sustainability comprise the basis of all decisions, including the construction of new dam projects," said Stein.
 "The government in its role as public trustee is obligated to openness and transparency. And questions of equity, sustainability and efficiency are not negotiable," Stein emphasised. Towns, livestock, agriculture and mining are the major water consumers in the arid and semi-arid Limpopo province, which was characterised by low and irregular rainfall, high evapotranspiration and cyclical droughts. The proposed R1,3-billion De Hoop dam, with an 81-metre-high wall, would have a storage capacity of 330 million cubic meters of water, but would constrict water flow through the Kruger National Park and Mozambique, where it flows into the Indian Ocean.
 The new dam could particularly affect the quality and timing of the water received in Mozambique.
 "We further believe that there wasn't a thorough or sufficiently wide enough consultation with the Mozambican stakeholders regarding the shared river reserves and the long-term effects of the mining industry," said Vera Ribeiro, co-ordinator of Geasphere Mozambique, in an appeal objecting to the dam's construction.
 Ribeiro said the South African and Mozambican governments must adhere to the SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses, and it was imperative that "more holistic and meaningful" consultations took place before final approval for the project was granted.
 Ribeiro said not enough information about the dam's effects on Mozambique's local communities has been disseminated, and the data which was available was only in English and "therefore almost impossible for Mozambicans to assess and analyse, and develop informed decisions on".
 Besides restricted water flow, key findings of a seminal report of the World Commission on Dams - then chaired by former Cabinet minister Kader Asmal -- suggested problem areas down the line.
 Among these were a marked tendency towards schedule delays in building large dams and financial cost overruns.
 Irrigation components also fell well short of targets, with one-quarter of the 29 dams in the sample with a water supply function delivering less than 50% of its target.
 The government plans to build 20 dams as part of its national water resource strategy in a country which is predominantly semi-arid, and where water is a key strategic resource in the development of the economy.
 And with more than 50% of these dams designated as large-scale, decision-makers needed to realise that economic systems are products of social systems, which in turn are dependant on natural systems.
 It was this mindset change that was important, with a locally produced concept paper on sustainable development alluding to the challenge.
 "The lack of high-level political will has also hindered the development of sustainability practices, which are currently seen as incidental to the business of government," notes the Western Cape government concept paper.