, Volume 2, Supplement 2, pp 29–40 | Cite as

Utilising South Africa's largest river: The physiographic background to the Orange River scheme

  • Swanevelder C. J. 


The Orange River, with an average annual runoff of 11 500 million m3, is the largest among South Africa's rivers, drains 48% of the total area of the country and provides for 22% of the total South African downflow. Not only does the average annual precipitation of the drainage basin vary from 2 000 mm in the upper reaches to 40 mm at the river's mouth in the Atlantic, but large deviations from the average are the rule rather than the exception over most of the area. The correspondingly low reliability in the discharge of the Orange master stream is demonstrated by a 0,6 coefficient of variability. For utilising the river's water efficiently, periodic and seasonal runoff deficits may be overcome by building large storage dams. This is the purpose of the H.F. Verwoerd Dam, near the confluence of the Caledon and the Orange Rivers, and the P.K. le Roux Dam 130 km lower downstream. They form part of the R490 million (1974 estimate) Orange River Project by which water is stored and distributed in canals and tunnels (one 82 km long) reaching beyond the basin boundaries to Bloemfontein in the north and Port Elizabeth in the south. The implementation of the Orange River and Tugela-Vaal Schemes shifted the spatial focus of water development upstream along the Orange, Caledon and Vaal Rivers towards the plateau blocks of Lesotho.


Drainage Basin Average Annual Precipitation Annual Runoff Large Storage Basin Boundary 
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Copyright information

© Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Swanevelder C. J. 
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of StellenboschStellenbosch, Cape ProvinceRepublic of South Africa

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