Landscape Photography: Berg River Dam #16

Planning for the Berg river dam began in 1989 by the South African Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. The process started with analyzing the region’s future needs and water resources and was subjected to a rigorous public participation process and debate. In 1995/6, a comprehensive “Evaluation of Options” study was undertaken, in which more than 1,100 individuals and organizations participated. Extensive environmental and social impact studies were undertaken between 1996 and 1997. The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism approved the project in 1999. In April 2002, the Cabinet approved the dam’s construction so that the City of Cape Town would reduce the demand for water by 20% by 2020. Construction began in July 2004. The dam started storing water in July 2007 and was full a year later thanks to good rainfall. According to the South African government, the decision to build the dam was taken only after an extensive review of the alternative options. It also involved an intensive public consultation process.

The Berg River Dam is a 68-meter (223 ft) high dam on the Berg River in South Africa. It is the centerpiece of the Berg Water Project (BWP), designed to capture the winter rainfall and store it for supply to Cape Town during the dry summer months. The project forms an important part of the Western Cape Water Supply System (WCWSS), an intricate system of dams and bulk water infrastructure that provides water to more than 3 million people. At the dam’s inauguration in 2009, then-President of South Africa Kgalema Motlanthe called the project “a good example of how public infrastructure projects can be used to contribute meaningfully to poverty eradication and to foster social empowerment of the people.” The Berg River Dam was the first dam in South Africa to be designed and constructed and is due to be operated following the guidelines of the World Commission on Dams. It has been completed on time and within budget. The Berg River basin and the adjacent metropolitan area of Cape Town are of particular importance to the Western Cape region because, although the basin generates only about 3% of the country’s water resources, it is home to about 8% of South Africa’s population, and produces about 12% of GDP.

Indigenous plants have been planted on the downstream face of the dam wall, ensuring that the dam blends with the surrounding landscape. Parallel to the dam’s construction, alien vegetation was removed from the upper river catchment, significantly increasing the amount of water available for storage and indigenous plant species. The scheme was designed to maintain the river’s ecological integrity, including by releasing specific volumes of water for this purpose. The releases of low and high flows coincide as closely as possible with natural flows. The outlet works of the dam have been designed for a peak release of up to 200 m³ per second, making it the first dam in South Africa where provision is made for flood releases for environmental purposes.

Berg River Dam, Franschhoek, Cape Town, South Africa (2020-11-07)

”A mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions”

Oliver Wendell Holmes

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