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Top 12 Astounding Katse Dam Facts

In the heart of the Kingdom of Lesotho, an enclaved country within the borders of South Africa, one of the most amazing dams in the world has been built.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Katse Dam, an incredible structure that was built for an important dual purpose.

1. The dam is located in the central part of Lesotho

The Katse Dam is an enormous structure located in the rural heartland of the Kingdom of Lesotho. There aren’t any notable towns in the area but Lesotho is a small country os the capital of Maseru is only a relatively short drive away to the west.

The dam was built on the Malibamat’so River, a river in the northern part of the country that has its original near the border With South Africa.

The river eventually joins the Orange River, the longest river in South Africa with a length of 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles). This confluence happens about 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) northeast of Mohlanapeng, a small village just southeast of the dam.

Malibamat'so River in Lesotho
Malibamat’so River in Lesotho / SkyPIxels / Wiki Commons

2. The original plan to build a dam here was conceived during the 1950s

One of the most renowned structural engineers in South Africa during the 20th century was a man named Ninham Shand (1899-1969). He was the one who came up with the idea to build a dam here way back in the year 1953.

His findings eventually culminated into a much larger project known today as the “Lesotho Highlands Water Project.” This project has a dual purpose to both deliver water and provide hydroelectrical power.

A feasibility study was conducted between August 1983 and August 1986 by a German-British consortium called the “Lahmeyer MacDonald Consortium” and the dam was built shortly after.

Katse Dam Facts
The dam and surrounding area / SkyPixels / Wiki Commons

3. Multiple big companies were involved in the construction

The Katse Dam was the first project of the extensive Lesotho Highlands Water Project to be completed in the year 1996. This was followed by the Mohale Dam, a dam completed in 2003.

The project will eventually feature 5 similar dams in the area but only 1, the Polihali Dam, is under construction at the moment while the other 2 are put on hold.

The construction of Katse Dam involved a consortium of some of the biggest companies in the world, including Bouygues, Concor, Group 5, Hochtief, Impregilo, Kier Group, and Sterling International.

4. An enormous reservoir was created because of the dam

Because of the dam, the relatively small Malibamat’so River appears to be an enormous stream. That’s because the dam has created a large reservoir from which the water supply can be delivered to various areas in the region.

This reservoir was only full in 1997, the year after the dam was completed, and covers a total area of 3,580 hectares (8,846 acres). It has a total volume of 1.950 cubic kilometers (467.82 cubic miles).

Katse dam reservoir sattelite view
Sattelite view of the reservoir / Wiki Commons

5. The dam benefits both Lesotho and South Africa

The Katse Dam has a dual purpose as it not only provides water to the large metropolitan area of Johannes burg and Pretoria to the north but also produces hydroelectric power.

What’s remarkable is that the hydroelectric station is located about 45 kilometers (28 miles) away from the dam. A tunnel with a diameter of 4 meters (13 feet) allows the water to reach it to produce electricity.

This hydroelectric station can produce 100 MW per year for the Kingdom of Lesotho.

Katse Dam tunnel
Tunnel boring machine / Wiki Commons

More interesting facts about the Katse Dam

6. Although Ninham Shand was the man who conceived the idea of building a huge dam in this location, it was British High Commissioner Sir Evelyn Baring who spearheaded the project.

Before the project was named the “Lesotho Highlands Water Project,” it was referred to as the “Oxbow Scheme.” Nothing came of that and would eventually take multiple more decades before the final preparations were conducted during the 1980s.

7. Although it doesn’t appear to be huge from a distance, the Katse Dam is actually an enormous structure. It stands 185 meters (607 feet) tall which is the second-highest in Africa.

The crest of this concrete arch dam has a length of 710 meters (2,330 feet) and an incredible amount of 2,320,000 cubic meters (3,030,000 cubic yards) of concrete was used to build it.

Katse Dam fun facts

8. It’s not the highest dam in Africa because this honor is reserved for the Tekezé Dam in Ethiopia. This enormous structure was completed in 2009 and only stands slightly taller than the dam in Lesotho with a height of 188 meters (617 feet).

The Katse Dam is, however, situated at an elevation of 1,993 meters (6,539 feet) above sea level, making it the highest elevation dam in Africa.

9. The dam was extremely expensive to build with a price tag of approximately US $8 billion. Just like the Itaipu Dam in South America, it was a combined effort by both South Africa and the Kindom of Lesotho.

10. The intake tower that distributes the water to the metropolitan area of Johannesburg is located about 18 kilometers (11 miles) north of the dam. This structure can manage an amazing 70 cubic meters of water per second (2,500 cubic feet per second).

11. An effort to preserve the plants in the area has resulted in the establishment of the Katse Botanical Garden. This garden is located just a few kilometers west of the dam and covers an area of 17 hectares (42 acres).

The botanical garden is not only the self-proclaimed highest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere but also features a large number of spiral aloes and traditional Sotho medicinal plants.

12. The Katse Airport emphasizes the fact that the Katse Dam was an enormous project. This airport is located just south of the dam and was specially built to facilitate access to the dam.

Katse Dam frontal view
Frontal view of the huge dam / Wiki Commons