A common question of individuals upon arrival in to the country is “can I drink the water?” This is not an unreasonable questions as we are on the continent of Africa where sanitation and drinking water is often not up to USA standards. The most surprising thing is that the answer to this simple question is yes, indeed, you can drink the water straight from the tap here in Gauteng. No boiling. No iodine tablets. What a joy! Water straight from the tap and into your mouth. It is truly amazing, but not without extensive effort on behalf of South Africa as well another nation not many have heard of, the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.
As a public health person doing water quality in this country, I happily consume the tap water and don’t worry about GI illness and everyday I appreciate the luxury. Humorously, when I was at a market in Joburg I came across a water bottle that summed up the water situation here so perfectly.
JoburgTap: Drinking this water is one of the safest things to do in the city
For all the problems SA has including roads with potholes so big your car could be swallowed and frequent load shedding where power is off for parts of the city all the time, the water utility (Rand Water) in SA is managing to do its job well providing us with clean, safe tap water. Rand water is indeed keeping the water clean treating it to a high standard, but also our source water is supposedly clean and pure because it comes from unpolluted catchments. I am not sure I buy that especially after hearing that wastewater treatment plants are not working and spilling pollution into local freshwater sources. All I know is that I continue to drink the tap water until someone tells me otherwise.
So how does Lesotho factor into all of this? Well Lesotho is a mountainous nation completely surrounded by the nation of SA. Lesotho is full of mountains and full of fresh water. Thus, in the 1980s a treaty was signed to divert water from the Senqu River System in Lesotho into SA to help relieve the water burden for stressed Gauteng (Read more here) and the Lesotho Water Highlands Project was born. Ultimately, a complex dam and tunnel system was developed that provided much needed income for Lesotho while providing SA with much needed water.
I mention all this because the outfall of this massive project is near to Clarens, so on my way out of town I knew I had to make a stop. As an engineer and microbiologist interested in water quality, I wanted to see the results of this crazy, huge water development project. It was cool in a very nerdy way to see where the water flows from Lesotho into SA. Access to water is a huge issue for many nations around the world and South Africa is lucky to have access to much needed water from a friendly, neighboring nation. I do hope that Lesotho is actually benefiting from all of this because we here in SA are thankful to continue to have access to clean, safe drinking water right from our taps. Water woes are a huge concern for the future of many locations, but South Africa proactively secured their water.
If you are also a nerd and want to check out this amazing feat of engineering, it is about 8 km from Clarens on R712. If you just want to check out some more photos, they are located here.