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Molopo River ceases to flow

25 Apr 2022

 It is just after dawn and the sun breaks out, casting glints on the slow ripples of the ancient Molopo River.

Trekking along the riverbank, BOPA reporter Calviniah Kgautlhe pauses to survey the river, which came alive early this year after a five-year dry spell.

Downstream near Werda just on the fringes of the border fence between South Africa and Botswana, a number of small eel fish are finding it hard to swim in the muddy, still and shallow pool of water.

Not surprising. The river which came alive on January the 17, where a confluence of a steep gradient of water burbled through Bray village from South Africa into Botswana, is no longer flowing.

However, at Bray, the river is habitat to a spectacle of birds, which occasionally swoop on the water surface looking for food.

When the river was at its peak, it was estimated that its flow rate takes a day to cover a distance of six kilometres.

“The river flows about 62km from Bray to downstream of Werda,” says Department of Water and Sanitation Services Kgalagadi regional manager, Mr Force Ramasuswana.

 Mr Ramasuswana said they went there on two-day intervals to monitor the flow when the river was heavily flowing and the height of the water was at 1.3 metres above the river ground.

He said the current pools of water show that it was no longer flowing measuring 73 centimetres high and stretching four kilometres towards the upstream from Bray.

The natural flowing watercourse fossil river is an ephemeral stream of the Orange-Senqu River system, which forms an international river basin shared by Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.

The origin of the water is Lesotho highlands.

The water expert explained that the sudden flow of the river early this year could be due to the fact that the rains on the Botswana part of the basin were not heavy during the second rainy season from January to March.

“That meant that when there was rain there was flow of rivers.”

Mr Ramasuswana said the last time the river fully flowed until it reached the sea was about 100 years ago.

He said in Botswana, the river was kept in its natural state while in South Africa farmers had created dams, which though legal, affected the natural flow of the water.

The water expert explained that some of the dams were built to reduce the water level, especially during rainy seasons to avoid cracking of dams, adding that when the rains were good, the river was likely to flow to Botswana.

He supposed that since the water came earlier than normal, as it usually happened in March, it was likely released from one of the dams.

Mr Ramasuswana said they could not rule out the possibility of climate change, stressing however that the water should be allowed to flow to maintain the natural ecosystem.

He said ORASECOM was looking at management of water including its equitable sharing by Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

Furthermore, he explained that the river commission was formed to equitably share surface water.

ORASECOM has started to get into agreements with countries located on the upstream of Molopo and the commission also recognised ground water as surface water, which eventually filtrates into the ground and is stored as ground water.

“Batswana can access the water through boreholes approved by the water apportionment board.

We drink Molopo river water underground at shallow depths compared to drilling inland.

The ground water quality along the river is also very good. In geological terms, the water seeped through the earth over the years,” he said.

He advised that the water resource must be taken care of, adding that those seeking sand, should apply for sand mining rights, as illegal mining of sand along the river disturbs river flow.

Stressing that the river should be left to flow naturally, he cautioned against putting up kraals in the river, as the nitrates from the kraals affect the river, making the water expensive to treat.

“Farmers who drill boreholes in the river should reticulate water far away from the river as the river aquifer is highly vulnerable to pollution,” he advised.

Meanwhile, Kgalagadi District superintendent head of surface water section, Mr Keabetswe Setswakae said the water head was currently located between Werda and Makopong leaving small pools of water.

He said as the river, which meanders between paths had since subsided. The water head was two kilometres downstream of Werda.

Mr Setswakae highlighted that even when the river was not flowing, it must be preserved to avoid polluting it and thus called for everyone located along the river to take care of it.

Bray Councillor, Mr Lawrence Tsebeng was found using the water for building purposes as potable water was expensive.

He said he also made bricks using the water from the river.

Mr Tsebeng also said some villagers used the river water to water their livestock and vegetable gardens, noting however that the majority could not use the river water for domestic purposes due to the distance.

The intermittent and usually dry Molopo River is about 1 000km long and it also marks part of the boundary between Botswana and South Africa on the Southern part of Botswana, then flows into the Atlantic Ocean through Namibia.

In its lower course the river passes through the Kalahari basin. BOPA


Source : BOPA

Author : Calviniah Kgautlhe

Location : BRAY

Event : Feature

Date : 25 Apr 2022