A structure that cuts through Waterberg Wilderness shows how precious and expensive drinking water is in Namibia: the canal, a section of the “Eastern National Water Supply System”.
Groundwater from the karst area
It supplies Windhoek and other places in the centre of the country with groundwater from the karst area of the Otavi Mountains, 460 km away. The canal supplies about one sixth of Windhoek’s annual water requirement of around 28 million m³ (as of 2021).
As early as 1968, when Windhoek had around 56.000 inhabitants, the city already began to develop more distant water sources – with the construction of the Von Bach Dam near Okahandja, a pumping station and an 80 km long pipeline. Just as this has been put into operation (1970), further (especially further away) watersources moved into focus: the Okavango border river, 710 km away. At the end of 1975, a corresponding water supply plan for the central parts of the country was approved. Windhoek then had around 75.000 inhabitants.
An enormous project
The plan was an enormous project, realized in parallel with the construction of the Swakoppoort Dam west of Okahandja, which was completed in 1978. The implementation rapidly took action: the Omatako Dam was completed 1981, 1983 the connecting pipeline to the Von Bach Dam and in 1987 the infamous canal from the Omatako Dam to Farm Uitkomst near Grootfontein. The costs were also enormous. At the end of the 1980s, the total amount, including a pipeline to the Okavango, was estimated at more than 310 million Rand – which would correspond to around 2.2 billion Namibian dollars today (2022).
But the 250 km long Okavango-pipeline, planned for 1991, was not built. The reason is not only the costs, but also the concerns of the neighboring state of Botswana regarding the water supply of the Okavango Delta. In 1994, Namibia signed an agreement with Botswana and Angola regulating the shared use of the water in the Okavango.
Thus, the temporary solution, using the groundwater from the karst area of the Otavi Mountains, became a permanent solution. But Windhoek continued to grow, from 139,000 inhabitants at the time of independence (1990) to 446,000 inhabitants in 2021. The Okavango-pipeline-plan is therefore not completely off the table yet. However, alternatives are also being examined: for example, a desalination plant on the coast with pipelines and several pumping stations for the difference in altitude of 1,600 meters. Estimated cost: 3.4 billion Namibian dollars.
The canal at Waterberg Wilderness
Back to the canal, which has been heavily criticized from the start. Maintenance is consuming and expensive. Plants cause leaks in the concrete shell. Around 10% of the water is lost through evaporation. Most serious, however, is the fact that thousands of animals die in agony in the canal every year. Once they have fallen in, they cannot get out of the steep concrete shell often covered with algae. The carcasses are disposed of by employees of the water company NamWater, who only sporadically patrol the canal. Critics are calling for the “killer-canal” to be covered with concrete sheets – so far without success.
ONE Namibia ensures that the canal at Waterberg Wilderness is patrolled daily by the rangers. The canal in the nature reserve is also secured with an electric fence on both sides. The investment has paid off so far: Whereas the rangers previously had to save an average of ten animals a month from the death trap, now it’s “only” ten a year. Still, small mammals and reptiles continue to suffer the most from the canal.