Table 1. Water management in South Africa: a timeline of events. Sources: Herold et al. 1992, Chutter et al. 1996, World Commission on Dams 2000, World Resources Institute (WRI) 2000, Thompson et al. 2001, Turton and Meissner 2003, DWAF 2003, Metsi Consultants 2002, Myburgh and Nevill 2003. Flow is based on annual flow records from 1935–1997; mean flow for period was 6980 ×106 m3;.

Year(s) Event
1800s Korana people farm on Gariep (Orange) River banks; Europeans settlers build irrigation scheme at Upington
1820-1870 A large influx of settlers from around the world introduces 11 of the 12 invasive species that now cause the greatest problems in fynbos biome
1872 First dam constructed in Gariep Basin
1880 Gold discovered in Johannesburg; water demands rise throughout surrounding Witwatersrand region
1880s-1890s Botanists begin to note the spread of nonnative plants over mountain slopes and losses of endemic species in fynbos vegetation, while foresters promote mountain plantations of nonnative trees
1895 All major Witwatersrand aquifers tapped; Johannesburg experiences water shortages
1903 Rand Water Board established
1912 Passage of South Africa’s Irrigation and Conservation of Water Act lays foundation for future water allocation, reserving surplus water for private property owners and establishing irrigation boards
1920s Controversy about effects of forest plantations on water supplies begins; demand for commercial timber products will drive high rates of afforestation with non-native hardwoods for next 60 yr
1928 Department of Irrigation dismisses proposed Orange River Development Project as too costly
1937 Passage of the Weeds Act; poor enforcement due to lack of field staff and resources
1935 Salinity levels in Vaal Dam begin to increase due to increasing industrial activities
1943 Annual flow of Gariep River reaches 62-yr high of 25,472 × 10 m³
1948 Nationalist Party comes into power and begins enacting apartheid legislation
1949 Purification works built to clean or divert highly saline water in the Vaal catchment
1940s-1970s Hydrological studies show that plantations have a negative effect on streamflow; efforts to control invasives are launched, but are uncoordinated, erratic, and hampered by limited follow-up clearing
1950s First survey of Basutoland (now Lesotho)’s water resources undertaken to assess viability of water exportation to South Africa
1956 South Africa passes Water Act no. 54 to accommodate needs of industrial expansion
1962-3 Political climate enables Orange River Development Project to win approval; poor planning results in delays and a quadrupling of initial budget
1965 Marked acceleration of Vaal Dam salinization
1970s Blackfly (Simulium chutteri) acquires pest status along Vaal, Gariep, and Great Fish Rivers after completion of Bloemhof, Gariep, Van der Kloof Dams, and Orange-Fish Tunnel.
1970 Mountain Catchment Act passed, giving responsibility for high-lying catchments to Department of Forestry; alien plants are cleared from tens of thousands of ha
1971 Gariep Dam completed; storage capacity (5341 million cubic metres) equal to roughly one-third of Gariep basin’s total runoff
1971 Water Research Commission created to initiate and fund water management research projects
1975 Orange-Fish Tunnel begins delivering water from Gariep River to Eastern Cape Province
1978 Vanderkloof Dam completed, the highest (108m) in South Africa
1986 Treaty signed to implement Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) after 8 yr of negotiations
Late-1980s Mountain catchment management responsibility passed from Department of Forestry to provinces; lack of funding hampers integrated invasive plant control programs and plants re-invade cleared areas
1992 Annual flow of Gariep River reaches 62-yr low of 818 × 10 m³
1995 DWAF minister Kader Asmal founds Working for Water Programme, which hires 7000 people and clears 33,000 ha in its first 8 mo
1995 Katse Dam, the highest in Africa at 185 m, is completed in the Lesotho’s Maloti Mountains
1998 South Africa’s Water Act no. 36 declares adequate water a basic human and environmental right
1998 LHWP completed; first LHWP water is released
2004 National Water Resources Strategy completed, paving the way for Water Act implementation; first proposals to establish Catchment Management Agencies completed
2005 Olifants River stops flowing into lower reaches for first time in recorded history, threatening biodiversity in downstream Kruger National Park